Best Calisthenic Ab & Core Workouts (Full Guide)

Best Calisthenic Ab & Core Workouts

You’ve poured your time and sweat into each and every workout, yet you’re still coming up short. That dream of chiseled abs and a six pack has been a dream for as long as you can remember. You’ve tried numerous regimens all promising great results fast. You’ve tweaked your diet. Maybe you’ve totally backed away and practiced acceptance. So, what if you’ll never have great abs? It’s just pretty muscles anyway, right? Wrong.

The best calisthenic ab and core workouts include planks, crunches, reverse crunches, side bridges, hollow body holds, flutter kicks, mountain climbers, lying leg raises, Russian twists, and hanging leg raises. A strong core is not only a coveted aesthetic, but also provides numerous health benefits. For best results, training abs every other day is a good baseline.

Are you ready for the best news yet? Most of these movements can be down just about anywhere anytime with little or no equipment at all. Read on to find out how to get going on it now!

Is It Possible to Get Abs with Calisthenics?

Calisthenics provide us with some of the very best exercises for strong and pronounced ab muscles. Sure, you touch on your abs in various lifts and movements that target larger muscle groups. However, incorporating calisthenic exercises is paramount when it comes to getting pronounced six pack abs.

Of course, a well-rounded approach is the greatest weapon in your arsenal when trying to get abs. Beyond calisthenic exercises, you should also include:

  • Regular cardio
  • Strength training and/or lifting
  • Excellent nutrition

Calisthenics will help you make great progress in your pursuit of getting abs. As the saying goes, however, “abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym.” You’ll need a comprehensive workout regimen but also a well-balanced diet filled with wholesome food choices.

Is Calisthenics Good for Core?

As a culture, we love looking at a great set of abs. That’s why they’re on the cover of fitness, fashion, and lifestyle magazines. It’s why movies and advertisements throw the abs front and center in front of us.

But what about core strength?

Cutting your body fat percentage down will reveal your ab muscles, but true core strength takes work. A strong core improves your quality of life both in and out of the gym.

Benefits of a strong core include:

  • Reduced risk of injury
  • Greater strength during other lifts
  • Improved protection for CNS and organs
  • Stronger back and trunk
  • Better posture
  • Improved breathing
  • Better balance
  • Increased heart health
  • Better digestion
  • Overall good feeling

The benefits of a strong core are vital and varied. Luckily, you can greatly improve your core strength through regular calisthenic exercises.

How Do I Get Strong Core Calisthenics?

As with any gains, the key is consistency. Many avid gym goers love selecting a specific muscle group for each workout. Some days are for back and biceps, while others are reserved for legs specifically. Other gym regulars prefer implementing heavy cardio and a full body workout each session.

Whatever your regular regimen, you can always add a set of ab-targeting calisthenics at the end of each workout. Aim to include ab work 3 to 5 times each week for the best results.

In addition, variety is the spice of life. Keeping your ab workouts varied with exercises that target different regions of the abdominals is key. Make sure to include exercises that hit the upper and lower abs, as well as those obliques on the sides.

Best Calisthenics Ab Exercises

Ab exercises may vary significantly in how they’re performed. However, all ab exercises provide activation to the abdominals and work that core. You’ll want to cycle through the following calisthenic core movements routinely to realize your best results.

1) Planks

Planks are the essential isometric ab-attacking exercise that should be performed regularly. By assuming the position and holding it tight, you’re going to work more than just the abs. Planks hit your abdominals, shoulders, traps, quads, glutes, and hamstrings.

If you’re looking for a tighter, leaner, harder, better all-around physique, planks will be crucial in pursuit of that goal. Here’s how to do a plank with good form:

  1. Lie down in a prone position. Prop yourself up on your forearms. Your elbows should be 90-degrees and stacked directly beneath your shoulders.
  2. Create a straight line from your neck to your heels while squeezing your abdominal muscles. Avoid arching your back or letting your butt dip. You want a straight line.
  3. Maintain hold for desired duration.

If you’re just starting out, try to hold your planks for short periods of time– 10 to 20 seconds. You can also scale the difficulty by placing your knees down similar to the modified push-up position.

For improved difficulty, you may hold the position for longer durations– 2 to 3 minutes or more. You may also progressively move your elbows further out in front of your body or add weight to your back. A barbell plate resting on your upper back should provide sufficient added resistance.

Overall, planks are very simple to learn, but are incredibly beneficial when performed regularly.

2) Crunches

If you’ve ever tried getting that coveted six pack before, you’ve probably done thousands of these. Literally thousands.

Crunches are far and away the most common ab exercises, and for good reason. They’re very simple to learn. Plus, they hit your upper abdominals hard helping you get closer to your dream of luscious abs.

Here’s how to do crunches with good form:

  1. Lie down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Bring your hands behind your head or cross them on your chest.
  3. Bring your chest up and squeeze your abs. Try to get as much of your lower back off the ground as possible.
  4. Return to the starting position and repeat as needed.

You may be more accustomed to the version where your feet are off the ground and your ankles are crossed in the air. This is a suitable variation that does not significantly affect the difficulty.

For an easier movement, you may throw your arms in front of you to get momentum. Conversely, holding a dumbbell in front of the body or overhead during the crunch increases the challenge.

Crunches are simple but effective. That’s why they’ve always been popular, and always will be.

3) Reverse Crunches

In the immortal words of rapper Missy Elliott, “flip it and reverse it.” That’s what you’re looking to do when you go from a standard crunch to the reverse crunch.

Instead of trying to bring your chest to your knees, now you’re bringing your knees to your chest. And since the other movement hits your upper abs, the reverse crunch hits, you guessed it, the lower abdominals.

Here’s how to reverse crunches the right way:

  1. Lie down flat on your back with your head resting on the floor. Your arms should be resting at your sides.
  2. Bring your legs up and your knees to your chest. Try to get your lower back and butt off the floor as you bring your knees in.
  3. Return to the starting position and repeat as needed.

For added difficulty, adding in ankle weights is an option. To make things easier instead, reduce the range of motion. Instead of bringing the knees to your chest, raise your legs a few inches off the ground and hold briefly.

4) Side Bridges

We’ve done a great job hitting the top, bottom, and front of the abs. What about the sides? What can we do for those often-overlooked obliques?

Side bridges are also among the most common exercises you’ll see in the gym. It’s simple enough to prop yourself into the right position. Plus, it hits your shoulders and biceps as well as your transversus abdominis muscles.

Here’s how to do side bridges with good form:

  1. Get on the floor with one side facing down. Prop yourself up on one forearm with your elbow at 90-degrees. Your feet should be together.
  2. Lift up your hips and squeeze your core. Hold the position for the intended duration.
  3. Release the hold and turn onto your other side. Hold the position again.

Remember– a side bridge only targets one side. You’ll need to allot equal time to hold each side for good balance. If you’re looking to make things easier, use your second arm to help hold yourself up. If you’re trying to make it harder instead, prop your feet on a stool and extend the arm that’s holding you up. This will intensify the impact of the exercise.

Feel that burn, baby!

5) Hollow Body Holds

Looking for another static hold that targets your whole abdominal area?

Look no further than the hollow body hold. Similar to the yoga “boat hold”, it involves holding tension in the core while raising your arms and legs off the ground. Beyond improving your core strength and stability, the isometric hold also tones your arms and legs.

Here’s how to assume the position and do a hollow body hold:

  1. Lie down flat on your back.
  2. Place your feet together and raise your legs while pointing your toes. Raise your arms and upper back off the ground simultaneously. Only your bottom and lower back should remain touching the floor.
  3. Squeeze your core. Hold for the intended duration.
  4. Release tension and rest.

For beginners, short holds of a few seconds– 10 to 20– is adequate. You may also choose to leave your arms resting instead of raising them. For increased challenge, you may extend the duration of the hold. You may also choose to hold dumbbells or a medicine ball overhead while holding the position.

6) Flutter Kicks

Want to look great swimming this season at the pool or the beach? Add in flutter kicks to your repertoire of ab exercises and you’ll be on your way to do just that.

Flutter kicks are a basic calisthenic exercise that targets the lower abdominals and core. Similar to the hollow body hold, the exercise requires you to hold a hollow body position but kick your legs simultaneously.

Here’s how to do flutter kicks:

  1. Lie down flat on your back.
  2. Place your feet together and raise your legs while pointing your toes. Raising your legs to create a 20 to 30-degree angle should suffice. Your arms may rest at your sides or behind your head to provide neck support.
  3. Squeeze your core and kick your legs as though you’re swimming.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps. Release tension and return to rest.

Flutter kicks are super easy to get right, but also super challenging. It’s a great beginner exercise that will provide sufficient challenge no matter what your fitness level is. 

If you do, however, feel it’s become too easy, try kicking faster or increasing your rep count. As with any exercise, increasing volume or intensity are great ways to add challenge.

7) Mountain Climbers

Mountain climbers are more than just a great ab exercise. They’re also great cardio and an excellent warm-up activity for any workout or WOD. Not only are they all-around great to include into any workout, but they’re simple. They can be done anywhere by just about anyone.

Here’s how to do mountain climbers with good form:

  1. Get on the ground and into a push-up position.
  2. Bring one knee to your chest at a time, alternating, in a sprint-like movement.
  3. Repeat for as many reps as desired.

Mountain climbers are great for the abs, for the shoulders, and for your daily cardio too! You can make them more challenging by going fast or just take things slow. 

It’s also possible to bring your knees to your opposite elbow instead of your chest. This will target the obliques more instead of the front of your abs.

8) Lying Leg Raises

We’re not lying; this exercise is great!

Lying leg raises are simple enough to perform but require intermediate skill and some fitness foundation to get it right. Like the reverse crunch, it hits your lower abs hard. Also like the reverse crunch, it starts from a lying position but includes one key difference– your legs stay straight.

Here’s how to do lying leg raises the right way:

  1. Lie down flat on your back with your head resting on the floor. Your arms should be resting at your sides.
  2. Bring your legs up while keeping your legs straight. Try to get your lower back and butt off the floor. If possible, raise your legs to form a 90-degree angle or even push slightly past to increase the range of motion.
  3. Return to the starting position and repeat as needed.

Looking for a little more challenge? You can extend your arms above your head or use ankle weights to increase the challenge. You can also add a little pulse at the top of the movement and push your feet to the ceiling. This adds just a little crunch to the movement for extra work during the motion.

On the other hand, if the movement is too difficult then you may consider perfecting reverse crunches before advancing. Remember– form is crucial. You’re not doing yourself any favors eking out a few lying leg raises when you could smash a set of reverse crunches with perfect precision.

9) Russian Twists

In Soviet Russia, Russian twists do you!

You may have seen folks in the gym twisting side to side during ab work. Russian twists are a common one but are not as beginner friendly as some of our other recommendations. When done properly, they’re great for strengthening the obliques. The improved core strength should help with your balance too.

Here’s how to do Russian twists correctly:

  1. Sit on the floor and lift your legs off the ground. Bend at your knees slightly. Hold your arms in front of you.
  2. Twist your body side to side. Make sure you are turning your whole body and not just your head and neck.
  3. Repeat for desired number of reps.

The most common variation you’ll see here is adding in weight. People use dumbbells, barbell plates, medicine balls– you name it and someone has tried it! If you’re just starting out and instead want to make it easier, try leaving your feet on the ground.

10) Hanging Leg Raises

If floor work is more like “bore work” in your eyes, you may try hanging out instead. We’re talking about hanging leg raises, of course!

Hanging leg raises are excellent at targeting the lower abs and giving a great overall core workout. In addition, hanging from a pull-up bar takes immense arm strength and body control. You’ll improve your grip and forearm strength too.

Here’s how to do hanging leg raises:

  1. Grab onto a pull-up bar and enter a dead hang position.
  2. Bring your legs up while squeezing your core. Try to form a 90-degree angle at least but bringing them all the way up to tap the bar is fine too.
  3. Repeat for desired number of reps.

For extra burn, lift the legs slowly and control your body’s movement. Avoid swinging wildly to get the most effect from the movement. If you’re ready to kick things up another notch, add in ankle weights too.

If it’s too spicy as is, you can cool things down by bringing your knees to your chest instead of keeping the legs straight. Knee raises are still very effective, but easier to perform properly.

Calisthenic Ab Workout Routine

There are many ways to take these exercises and put together a comprehensive routine. You can focus on one part of your abs each session or attack the whole thing each time. Additionally, you can do sets of each movement before moving onto the next or do them one after another with no rest. Or you can attack it in couplets going from one movement to another back and forth before moving to the next couplet.

There are many ways to get it done and you’ll want to do what works best for you and what feels right. Here are two sample sets to get you started:

Set A

Reverse crunches30
Flutter kicks30
Mountain climbers50
Plank30 to 60 seconds

Set B

Side bridge30 seconds each side
Mountain climbers50
Lying leg raises30
Russian twists30
Hollow body holds30 to 60 seconds

For each set, aim to do the whole set three times. Take little or no rest in between movements, but rest as needed in between sets– approximately two to five minutes.

These sets are designed assuming that you have only a mat and floor space to perform the movements. If you do happen to have access to a pull-up bar, feel free to sub hanging leg raises in for lying leg raises. You may also perform them as a set of 5 by themselves after the rest of this work is complete.

Good luck!

Calisthenics Core Workout No Equipment

The best part of this calisthenic ab and core workout is that you often require no equipment. Sure, a mat is nice for comfort, but it’s not necessary. You just need a floor.

Of course, many of our included exercises benefit from having at least one dumbbell available. Movements like the hanging leg raise will require a pull-up bar or something secure to hang from. However, that is the only of our recommended exercises that requires any equipment.

That’s the beauty of calisthenics– no equipment needed!

How Often Should You Train Abs?

As with other muscle groups, you must be consistent and work your abs regularly to see results. However, you must also give them time to rest and recover after a rigorous set. Your abs may be achy and sore after a real good session.

Every other day for ab training is a good baseline. If you’re still building your fitness foundation, taking two rest days in between is not a bad idea either. Likewise, more fit individuals may decide that some ab training after each workout is fine.

Most importantly, listen to your body. If your abs are screaming before you even hit the mat, take the day off. After all, gains don’t happen in the gym. They come from recovering afterwards, and you’ll hurt your progress if you don’t allow that recovery to happen.

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