One of my favorite things to do is combine the worlds of fitness and Pilates through body weight exercises that use the best of both, and this Exercise of the Month does just that. Abdominal Hedge Trimmers (besides having a really cool name) is a mix of core and dynamic movement that is at once Pilates inspired and a great fitness exercise. The exercise primarily works the abdominals, hip flexors, and hip adductors and abductors.

Start Position

Start supine, with your lumbar spine in the neutral position and resting on the mat. Flex your thoracic and cervical spine and support your head with your hands, keeping your elbows slightly forward to allow for scapula protraction. Your legs are extended toward the ceiling, hips flexed at 90 degrees.

How to Perform It

Open and close your legs one time. Then lower the legs toward the floor a few inches and open and close them again. Hold your upper torso steady throughout the exercise. Continue to lower the legs down toward the floor, a few inches lower each time, for a total of five repetitions. On the last repetition, the legs should be as low as you can maintain your neutral spine and pelvis position. Next, continue to open and close for five more repetitions as you bring the legs back up a few inches at a time until you are back in the start position. You can inhale as you open and exhale as you close, or change the breathing to whatever helps you maintain the stability of the pelvis and spine throughout the exercise, just avoid holding your breath. Complete four sets of lowering and lifting. You can also do the exercise for a specified amount of time, then increase the time as you get stronger.

Regressions

For those who are not strong enough to do the regular exercise, try these regressions:

  1. Adductor Stretch. Keep the legs vertical and avoid lowering them. This takes the added lever length (resistance) out of the exercise, so the focus is more on the hip adductors and less on the abs and hip flexors.
  2. Hedge Trimmers With No Upper Body Flexion. Perform the same movement pattern with the legs, keeping your head and shoulder on the mat and arms resting by your sides on the floor. This takes the work off of the abdominals and may be better for those with limited range of motion in the thoracic spine, or weaker neck flexors.

Progression

For those who’ve mastered the regular version, add ankle cuffs for resistance. This changes the emphasis from the hip adductors to the hip abductors throughout the exercise and also adds an elastic resistance (variable) component.

Programming Tips

Since this exercise is a muscular endurance exercise, as opposed to a traditional strength-based exercise, you can do two sets of 10-40 repetitions. A recovery period of 30 seconds to 1 minute should be enough time between sets. You should progress this exercise by adding more reps and shortening the recovery time as appropriate.

This exercise is a fun blend of fitness and Pilates. Click on this link to view the video. For more examples of fitness, Pilates and Pilates-inspired exercises and workouts, please check out www.jgfittv.com. JGFIT TV is your online resource for fitness and Pilates programming, including master classes, mini workshops and “Moves of the Day.” The master classes and mini workshops include downloadable notes. Go to www.jgfittv.com/ideafree for a special offer only for IDEA fitness professionals.

John Garey, MA, CSCS, is an international fitness and Pilates presenter. He owns John Garey Fitness & Pilates in Long Beach, California, and is the creator of JGFIT TV.