Corkscrew Exercise for Stronger Abs (Step-by-Step Guide)

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Published by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: June 21, 2024
FACT CHECKED by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
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Many of my clients, who are professional athletes, have turned to Pilates for strengthening their back and core.

And in my experience, the corkscrew is one of the best ways to target your obliques, abs, hips, and legs.

It requires practically no equipment, and it’s a low-impact level body exercise.

But there are a few common mistakes that could cause you some back strain, so we created this guide to help you avoid that.

Quick Summary

  • To effectively target your abs, obliques, hips, and legs, incorporate corkscrew workouts into your routine.
  • Sticking to proper posture and movements during corkscrew exercises can help prevent back pain.
  • The hip flexors, crucial for leg movement in activities like walking and kicking, connect your thighs with the hips, according to the WebMD.
  • In my opinion, prioritizing quality workouts over quantity is essential for achieving better results and preventing injury.

Which Muscles Do Corkscrews Work?

Beyond achieving those sought-after washboard abs, I've personally found that the corkscrew exercise is a powerhouse for your entire core.

In my experience, it effectively targets not only the rectus abdominis and obliques but also engages the lower back muscles, providing a well-rounded workout.

Now, let's delve deeper into what makes this exercise so effective.

1. Abs And Obliques


You’ll feel the main tension of the exercise build up in your core muscles made up of your abs and obliques, which support both sides of your belly [1].

Many of my clients find it surprising that this part of their body plays a key role in supporting the lower back and spine.

It’s at the center of good posture and allows you to build a solid foundation for many other workouts and exercise movements.

2. Hips and Legs

Woman showing Hips-and-Legs

You'll also experience your hip flexors and hamstrings engaging throughout the exercise, as I've personally observed in my coaching practice.

The hip flexors are a muscle group that connects your thighs with the hips and plays a vital role when you move your legs for walking and even kicking, according to the WebMD [2].

One way to really feel all the muscles impacted by this exercise is to do a few reps at a slow speed.

Feel the change along the sides of your abdomen and in your legs as you slowly move your legs.

Just make sure you don’t feel too much pressure on your spine.

Pilates Corkscrew Exercise Guide

Pilates Corkscrew Exercise

Be careful to read through these instructions before you do the exercise and check the common mistakes below, as well, as I've witnessed the impact they can have.

These might not hurt your body straight away.

On the other side of the coin, if you keep doing the exercise wrong, then you can suffer repetitive strain injuries in your lower back and spine and may end up visiting a local physio center for some treatment and massages.

Here are the steps to follow:

  • Step 1: Lie on your back using a mat with your arms alongside your body and palms facing down; your legs should be stretched out, and relax your shoulders onto the mat.
  • Step 2: Stretch your legs straight up to the ceiling and feel your lower back push down onto the mat.
  • Step 3: Take a deep breath and engage your abdominal area and legs to avoid a sudden build-up of pressure on the lower back during the exercise.
  • Step 4: Keep your knees together and slowly allow your legs to fall to the side and then start a circular motion with the tips of your toes.
  • Step 5: Maintain good neck and shoulder stability on the mat and balance yourself with your arms.
  • Step 6: Focus on slowly breathing out for the first half of the circle motion and then breathe in while returning to the starting position. Repeat.
  • Step 7: As you grow stronger and confident, move to the next level - challenge your body to lower the angle of the legs to each side, but don’t allow your lower back to move or lift off the mat.

Avoid These Exercise Mistakes

Exercise mistakes you should avoid

I've noticed that beginners often face the temptation to rely on body momentum to make the exercise easier.

However, it's important to resist this temptation, as it won't enhance your strength and may lead to spinal pressure.

Avoid the urge to flex your hips and knees for additional repetitions. Prioritize quality workouts over quantity to achieve better results.

Finally, keep the tips of your toes pointing straight up and challenge yourself to keep the legs together.

When your legs flare out or move apart, you won’t get the same impact from the work you put in.

To ensure you reap all the benefits without risking injury, it's crucial to be aware of common mistakes.

If you’re in doubt about any of it, talk to a personal trainer or pilates instructor for more direction and some variations.


Do Corkscrews Cause Back Pain?

No, corkscrews don’t cause back pain if you stick to good form. Make sure your arms don’t move by your side to provide stability and that your legs stay close together. Also, avoid using momentum with your legs, as this can increase spinal pressure.

Is the Corkscrew Difficult for Beginners?

No, the corkscrew exercise isn’t difficult for beginners. The biggest problem might be keeping your legs straight and together.

This requires some flexibility and stretching in the legs muscles, but your body will gradually adapt to the move.


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About The Author

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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