The Criss Cross is one of the most ‘crossed’ over exercises in Pilates (please excuse the pun). We see lots of fitness instructors/classes/people using this exercise in their training regimes… Who can blame them, its a super effective abdominal and oblique toning exercise!
The lift and twisting action works the obliques and the core and it’s this combination that helps towards perfecting alignment/posture, spinal flexibility, and creates a slim and defined waistline. However, this exercise can be performed incorrectly and these results won’t be seen; let alone leaving a risk of injury. Be sure to follow the instructions to maximise safety and results, don’t cheat!
How do I do it?
Lying on your back, relaxing your trunk heavy in to the mat. Bring the legs to table top position. Hands on top of each other at the base of the head. Relax your shoulders away from your ears and let your belly drop in toward your spine to fill any caving of the lower back. Root the tailbone and feel length out of your hip sockets through the tops of the knees and up throughout the spine.
Inhale: Curl your head, neck and shoulders out of the mat in to your centre until your shoulder blades lift off the mat.
Exhale: Scoop your abs deep and twist to your right, reaching your right armpit towards your left knee (elbows still wide), extend your right leg to your high diagonal.
Inhale: Keep the lift in your chest as you return to centre and bring both knees back to table top position.
Exhale: Scoop the abs in again and twist to your left, reaching the left armpit towards to right knee and extending the left leg out.
Inhale: keep the lift as you come back to centre.
– Begin with both feet flat on the mat, knees bent, legs hip width apart. Hands behind the head, curl out of the mat until the shoulder blades are also lifted out of the mat. Proceeding with the same exercise/movement as previously instructed but keeping the feet flat on the mat. This modification will stabilise the hips and trunk and allow you to understand the oblique/ab connection better, thus teaching you how to stabilise the hips when moving on to the full exercise with extended legs. Remember to keep your knees centred and your legs strong in to the mat. Best version for weak back/neck/core.
– Using a magic circle in between the legs (mid lower legs for table top position or in between ankles for fully extended legs). This stabilises the trunk and spine as above but with raised legs to work deeper and understand the connection better, whilst maintaining a neutral pelvis. This will also connect in to the thighs and butt!
– Using the circle but this time between your hands, curl up to centre and as you twist to the right, reach your arms/circle long to try and reach your left elbow to touch your right bent knee, still extending the left leg away from you. This can help with lifting the shoulder blades out of the mat more and getting more of a twist. Remember to relax the shoulders away from the ears and to not hold tension in the arms.
– Using the circle again, place one of the spongey sides on to the bent knee placing the hands behind the head glue the elbow as you twist on to the opposite spongey of the circle. Extend the opposite leg away and lift the chest in our twist to pullets for 3 counts. Back to centre as you take the circle to the other knee and repeat on the other side. This deepens the oblique work and forces you to get more lift, getting the shoulder blades out of the mat whilst also stabilising the lower half of the body.
– You can bring the bent knee deep in to your chest when twisting. When you extend the opposite leg away this will create a deep stretch as well as maintain a deep abdominal workout. Remember to still keep centred and stable in your trunk, also rooting the tailbone in to the mat as you draw the knee closer in.
– Most Pilates exercises can be performed whatever your injury however, the ‘half-curl’ position may not be suitable for disc-related back problems or osteoporosis as there will be rotation and flexion in the spine.
– toned obliques/abs; defined waistline and ‘love handles’.
– better alignment and posture.
– works the hip flexors.
This twisting movement combined with the stabilisation will come in to play in other Pilates workouts, perfect this exercise and watch the improvement in your physical abilities and appearance!