20-Minute Workout: Abs and Arms
A barre series that targets vanity muscles, from Pure Yoga’s Christina Ilisije
While you can carve a tantalizingly toned body in less than a half hour, we’re here to tell you what you already know: To reap the rewards—increased calorie burn, strength, power, blissful endorphin high—truncated workouts must be insanely intense. So we asked a team of Equinox trainers and group fitness instructors what they would do if they were given just 20 minutes to have at it. Here is the latest in the series:
The Pro: Christina Ilisije, Figure 4 Barre instructor, Pure New York City
The Workout: This 20-minute barre series will tone your arms and abs without lifting a single weight. The key: Working big then small. “These exercises first heat up the larger muscles of your core—the abdominals, shoulders, back and supporting pelvic muscles—to warm up the body and prepare for the more acute toning of your biceps, triceps and the four distinct layers of your abdominals,” says Ilisije. Optimal alignment is essential to the effectiveness of these exercises, so pay close attention to those cues as you flow from one exercise to the next.
Wide-Stance Push-Up with Arm Lift: Set up this push-up with hands slightly wider than shoulders, finger tips angling slightly inward, knees hip-width apart on the mat. Flex feet and squeeze heel bones together to activate glutes. (For a more advanced option, rest on toes, hip-width apart, on the mat.) Keep abdominals lifted, shoulders activating down your back, and pelvis in neutral alignment. Avoid lifting tailbone up and shortening the front of your hips.
Inhale and slowly descend the arms, bending the elbows on a backward diagonal. Exhale and straighten through the arms, lifting the abdomen higher and feeling the muscles of the arms pull up and engage. Once you reach the top of the push-up, lift right arm straight out in front of you, upper arm level with your ear. Place right hand down and repeat, raising left arm. That’s one set; perform 10 sets.
Forearm Plank: Place forearms down on the mat with elbows under shoulders and forearms parallel. Step toes to outer edges of the mat, wider than hips with straight and active legs. Brace abdominals in and up. Drop shoulders down the back. Avoid looking under body and lifting pelvis higher than the height of shoulders. Focus eyes right between forearms, keeping the neck long.
Hold plank pose for 30 seconds. Deepening the sensation of lift in abdomen, drop one shoulder, and lift one quadricep. Next, start to bend one knee then the other, alternating. Do 20 reps, keeping the alignment of your plank strong. Continue bending the knees, but now start to place one knee down, on a slight inward diagonal to touch the center of the mat to more deeply target obliques. Do 20 reps. Take a wide-kneed child’s pose and repeat plank set from the beginning.
Triceps Dips: Sit on the mat, and take hands behind you with fingertips pointed toward toes. Place feet on floor with legs together. Shoulders should be over wrists and held away from ears. Keep abdominals inward, and knees squeezing together to incorporate inner thighs.
Start to bend elbows, back and slightly inward to activate triceps and open chest. Bend elbows fully and straighten fully. Do 20 reps. Next, bend elbows so you are about halfway from your fullest stretch. Pulse elbows downward. Do 20 reps.
Arm Stretch: Take butt to floor and take right arm across body, hooking it with left arm, shoulders down, sitting up tall. Then take right elbow behind head, right palm down towards the center of your back. Pull elbow back with the help of left hand. Repeat stretches on the left.
Scooping Ball to Long Leg Extension: Hug knees into chest, legs together, knees squeezed towards each other. Contract low abdomen to feel lumbar spine elongate and imprint on mat. Lift head and neck up, bringing nose close to your knees and hands wrapping around the tops of shins. Become as small as possible, feeling abdominals pull inward to tighten your shape.
Scoop the low abdominals inward and allow tail bone to lift just an inch or two off the mat. Continue to elongate arms and legs in two opposite directions: legs on a long, low diagonal in front of you with legs together and active and arms on a high diagonal with upper arms in alignment with ears. Avoid having abdominals distend or having back arch off your mat. Keep abdominals bracing inward, and keep low back imprinting on the mat. Return back to tight ball shape with the scoop and lift of the pelvis. Repeat for 20 reps.
Continue the same action, but now as you extend legs out, take them out slightly wider than hips to target your obliques. Repeat for 20 reps.
Lastly, hold legs out on a long, low diagonal. Touch them together, keeping them as straight as possible with abdominals bracing inward and low lumbar spine imprinting on the mat. Bring your hands, interlaced, behind head. Lift upper trapezius off floor, exhale and bring upper abdominal inward, keeping elbows wide and chin away from chest. Starting from this lifted position, pulse upward by scooping belly further downward and inward. Do 30 reps.
Upward Facing Dog: Roll onto stomach and take hands under shoulders, legs long at hips-width. Elongate arms, keep shoulders down, and lift heart upward. Activate quadriceps to protect low back, keeping the tops of arches on the floor. Open your abdomen and breathe.