Pilates Mat Exercise: Criss Cross

Criss cross focuses on the abdominals with a special emphasis on the obliques. The obliques aid in posture stabilization to some degree, but they are more involved in flexion and rotation of the spine. One benefit of working the obliques is that they help define the waist.

What You Need for Criss Crosses

This is a mat exercise, all you need is a mat and somewhere you can lay it out to do it.



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  • Lie on your back in neutral spine.
  • Bend your knees and bring your shins up so that they are parallel to the floor.
  • Place your hands behind your head, supporting the base of the skull. Keep the elbows wide.
  • Use an exhale to pull your abs into a deep scoop, and leaving the pelvis in a neutral position (not tucked or tipped), curl the chin and shoulders off the mat up to the base of the shoulder blades.

Tip for the Criss Cross Set Up

Keep a lot of length between your shoulders and your ears. Imagine that your back is very wide and that your shoulder blades are sliding down your back as you are raising up off the mat.


Criss Cross Pilates Mat Exercise Instructions

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Now you are ready to perform the Pilates Criss Cross Mat Exercise

  1. Inhale: Your upper body is in a full curve, your abs are pulling your belly button down to your spine, and your legs are in tabletop position.
  2. Exhale: Reach your left leg out long, and as you keep the elbows wide, rotate your torso toward the bent right knee so that your left armpit is reaching toward the knee.
  3. Inhale: Inhale as you switch legs and bring the trunk through center
  4. Exhale: Extend the right leg. Rotate your upper body toward the left knee. Keep your chest open and elbows wide the whole time. Resist the urge to hold yourself up with your arms. Make this exercise about the abs.

Repetitions for the Criss Cross: Start with 6 and work your way up to 10.

Tip for the Criss Cross: You must keep a stable, neutral pelvis as you rotate the spine. No tucking, tilting, or rocking, please!

How to Modify Criss Cross

  • The higher you work your legs, the easier the exercise will be on your lower back. Keep your legs high until you have enough abdominal strength to maintain a neutral pelvis throughout the exercise.
  • Try working just the upper body part of the exercise. You can leave your feet flat on the floor, with the knees bent and the legs parallel.

Building Up to Criss Cross

If you have difficulty doing criss cross at first, start with these moves:

  • Single leg stretch will give you the curl up and the switching of the legs, without the extra difficulty of the rotation.
  • Saw will help you develop a good sense of rotating the spine with an open chest and stable pelvis.

Learn more about oblique workouts

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