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This Pilates ‘Core Ladder’ Works the Teeny, Tiniest Muscles in Your Midsection

If you’ve taken a Pilates class, you know that small, controlled movements can make your body shake with effort. They work your slow-twitch (or “type one”) muscle fibers, which help support your joints as you go about your day. And on this week’s episode of Good Moves, Chloe de Winter, founder of Go Chlo Pilates, is challenging those stabilizers by taking you through a Pilates “core ladder.”

While you can do Pilates on a reformer (a machine that challenges your strength, flexibility, and balance by adding resistance), in this video, de Winter guides you through a mat Pilates workout. Meaning, you’ll only need a mat and a set of hand weights—de Winter opts to use wrist weights, but you can grab dumbbells, water bottles, or whatever is accessible to you.

To get started, de Winter leads you through a ladder-style core workout that slowly builds up to a serious muscular endurance challenge. Below, you’ll find the instructions for the ladder, but if you’re ready to watch the full workout (and really put those tiny muscles to the test ), make sure to watch the full video.

Try out de Winter’s 4-move Pilates core ladder workout

1. Lying arm raises

Grab your weights, and either strap them around the wrists or grip them firmly. Come to lie down flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Stretch your arms straight up toward the ceiling, palms facing away from you. Slowly lower your arms back and down, bringing biceps by ears, then return to start and repeat. Keep your mid-back from arching and ribs from lifting up as you do this.

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2. Lying arm raises with knees in tabletop position

Keep your starting position exactly the same as the first move, apart from one little thing: Lift your feet into the air, and bring your shins parallel to the floor. Make sure your knees are directly above your hips and begin that same movement pattern from the last exercise: Lower your straight arms back and down, bringing biceps by ears, then return to start and repeat.

3. Lying arm raises with single leg extension

Okay, adding on. As you lower your arms, extend your right leg forward (a straight leg is a longer lever, and more load for your abdominal muscles to manage), then slowly draw it back into tabletop as you raise your arms. Repeat on the left side, and continue alternating. Do your best not to pull your opposite knee toward your face as you extend one leg because doing so offloads your core, and you want to keep those muscles firing.

4. Lying arm raises with double leg extension

For the last rung of the ladder, squeeze your legs together and extend both of them straight forward as you lower your arms back and down, so both arms and legs are moving away from your center simultaneously. Lift your arms at the same time as you bend your knees back over your hips, returning to your start positon and repeating. If you find that your lower back is popping off the ground, don’t lower your legs as far toward the floor when you extend them.