March 26, 2021 10 min read

Your core is the pillar of all of your strength. When you’re able to bring stability to your torso you can max out at weights higher than you’d ever imagined. Getting your ab strength up isn’t hard either. You don’t need fancy tools, custom weights, or anything they try to push in those late-night ads, all you need is your own body weight, some motivation, and a couple of minutes. Calisthenic exercise is one of the best ways to build muscle and increase your endurance, and we’re here to offer you a handful of the best calisthenic core workouts to help you grow in your fitness journey and demystify the magic of calisthenic exercise.

Cali-what?

If you’ve never heard of calisthenics the name doesn’t really give you a lot of information, but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll see that the word “calisthenics” is just as simple as calisthenic exercises. The word calisthenics comes from the ancient Greek word “kallos” meaning "beautiful" and the word “sthenos” meaning "strength.” The ancient Greeks were all about the beauty in the natural world, and they celebrated the human body. The Olympics used to be a way for the Greeks to obtain political clout, and the athletes would be butt naked. 

So, when you find out that calisthenics are strength-building exercises that use your own body to strengthen your body, you can see how a culture like the ancient Greeks would eventually come up with a name like “beautiful strength,” and it’s hard to argue against that. Calisthenics are an amazing way to burn calories. You’re never too far away from a compound exercise that will burn fat off of your body and increase your strength. 

Man doing sit ups

Core Fundamentals

Your core is the thing that keeps your upper body and your lower body attached to each other. Every movement you make with your legs has an effect on your upper body, and whenever you’re swinging your arms, your legs are going to be affected by that movement. Having a strong core is the thing that separates the champs from the chumps. If you’re plateauing, you can probably benefit from improving your core strength. If you feel like your endurance is suffering but you’ve already followed the obvious avenues of improvement, your core strength is probably due for an overhaul. Keeping a solid trunk when you’re working out is the best way to improve your performance because your core is the key that keeps all of these parts together.

If you’re ready to get your core nice and tight, then let’s learn about the muscles that make up your core. When you set out to improve an area of your body it pays to know exactly which muscles you’re working on. 

Let’s Start with Your Abs.

The first thing we think about when we talk about your core is the abs or your rectus abdominis. Your rectus abdominis muscle is the proper name for the set of muscles we’re talking about when we talk about our abs. They’re set right in the middle of your body in an area called the rectus sheath. Your rectus sheath is a sheath of tendons that enclose your rectus abdominis. They basically extend from your obliques and create a wall around each of your abs. This is what separates your abs into segments, and that’s how you get that distinct ab shape on your belly when you burn away all of the fat and work up the muscle definition there.

Your rectus abdominis is responsible for your posture. They work together to move your lumbar spine. That’s the part of your spine that makes up your lower back. Anytime you move your pelvis up towards your rib cage or vice versa that’s your abs at work. Whenever you bend over to pick something up sit up in bed, that your abs doing their thing. 

Your obliques and the muscles in your back are also going to make up your core strength as well. You need your obliques to create and maintain pressure on your core. You use your obliques to keep your insides on the inside as well as to assist your abs in bringing your chest downward. It also performs ipsilateral, or same side bending as well as side-bending and contralateral or opposite side rotation. Your back muscles are there to provide an extending force to mirror the flexion of your abs. When you’re performing something like your crunches, remember to apply tension to the muscles in your back as well, because focusing on your abs alone isn’t going to build the kind of muscle and endurance you need to strengthen your core.

Core Calisthenics

Keeping your core nice and tight is as easy as a couple of exercises. You can slip these into a workout routine, or tag them onto the end of your morning routine and you’ll see results in no time. They focus on your abs, but every good calisthenic exercise is going to engage more than a single muscle group. They work with the anatomy of your body, and that means that you’re going to be using muscles in concert with each other to achieve the goal of your workout.

Planks 

Planks are the isometric exercise of kings. If you’re looking to build up your core strength, then look no further than these. When you’re planking, you’re engaging all of your core to keep your back straight and your body suspended. Planks are also dead simple, all you need is your body and the floor.

  • Prop your body up on your elbows, engaging your shoulders and pecs so your upper body is tight, don’t let your back sag towards the floor
  • Get up on your toes and make a straight plane from your head to your heels
  • Hold that position for an interval, if you’re just starting out, go for maybe thirty seconds at a time and add a few seconds as your core strength increases

If you’re looking for a challenge you can try decline planks. The decline plank has all of the best aspects of a plank built into it, and then some. Your inverted position is going to place a lot of the onus on your upper abs, which are a tough spot to reach sometimes.

  • Find something to prop your feet on, a slightly raised box or a bench will do
  • Prop your feet up and rest with elbows on the ground
  • Keep your back flat, and your elbows in line with your shoulders
  • Hold this plank position for about a minute or as long as possible

Decline Plank Variants

  • Add a foot touch to your planks as you get stronger. All this involves is lifting one foot off of your inclined position and touching it to the ground. It’s great for your glutes, and shifting your point of balance will force your abs into overtime. 
bicycle crunch

    Bicycle Crunch 

    The bicycle crunch is a classic. You’re not running the risk of putting undue pressure on your spine the same way hundreds of crunches a week will. They’re great for beginners and folks looking to increase their core strength. You don’t need any equipment, and you don’t need to tuck your toes underneath anything. You can’t accidentally cheat at them, and it’s easy to keep their form at the front of your mind.

    • Lie down flat on your back
    • Make sure your lower back remains pressed into the floor
    • Place your hands lightly against your head, try touching your fingertips to your temples 
    • Lift one leg slightly off of the ground
    • Lift your other leg off of the ground and bring it towards your chest 
    • While bringing your left knee towards your chest, bring your right elbow towards the approaching knee
    • Make sure your fingers remain in light contact with your head, don’t worry about totally touching your knee, this exercise is more about activating the muscles in your abs
    • Lower your leg and arm back into your starting position
    • Mirror the above movements with your opposite limbs
    • Try not to twist your body too much, you want to keep your legs moving in a mostly straight line 

    Bicycle Crunch Variations

    • Get a workout ball or a Bosu ball and rest your lower back on that while executing the movements for a bicycle crunch. You’re going to have to focus on keeping your balance, and that extra effort is great for appreciating the work your abs do as well as increasing the load you’re taking on during these crunches
    • Sprinter crunches are similar to the bicycle crunch. You’ll start in the same position as the bicycle crunch, but keep your inactive leg on the ground. When you bring your knee towards your chest, bring your torso up along with your opposing elbow to meet it. Lie back town in between switching sides, and repeat.

    Hollow Hold

    The hollow hold is a versatile no-frills exercise. This one is another ab exercise you can do with a floor and nothing else, or if you’re up for the challenge, you can try them on a pull-up bar. There are several versions of the hollow hold, if you’re struggling this is one that can be made easier with a slight adjustment, and if you’re thriving, it’s easy to add to the challenge. The pull-up variant is the most you’ll have to invest in any sort of equipment for a calisthenic core exercise. If you’re really not trying to spend any money you can find a pull bar at any local park that’s not throwing your tax money into a pit. We’ll start you with the basic hallow hold:

    • Start by lying flat on your back
    • Bring your ankles together and engage your glutes to keep them there
    • Squeeze your arms together against your ears, at this point, your upper and lower body should be tight
    • Press your lower back into the floor and bring your arms and feet up off of the ground
    • You should be making a hollow-bodied crescent shape. Hold that position for about 30 to 45 seconds and repeat
    • It may help to imagine a leg raise with your belly button as the fulcrum

    Hollow Hold Variations

    When you feel like you’ve mastered the hollow hold you can start putting your favored spin on it. 

    • You can turn your hollow holds into a sort of crunch by bringing your knees and arms towards your chest and curling up into a ball after you’ve held for the appropriate amount of time. 
    • After you’ve become more comfortable with your hollow holds, you can incorporate a rocking motion from your head to your toes
    • If you’re struggling with your hollow holds, you can bring your arms and legs in a little bit to reduce the amount of weight your abs are supporting on their own
    • If you want to get really fancy or you’re training for an obstacle course you can do hollow holds while hanging from a bar. This is a great motion for getting your body swinging if you ever find yourself on monkey bars over a pit of water
    • If you hold a ball in between your ankles or add some light weights in your hands to increase your resistance 
    sit ups

      Decline Sit-ups 

      Decline sit-ups are another exercise that takes the form and function of your standard sit-up and adds challenge and utility. You’re going through the basic motion of a sit-up, but the declined starting position is sort of like a reverse crunch, and it’s going to engage your upper abdominal area right off the bat.

      • Start by lying down on a declined bench, you should set it between a 30 and 45-degree angle
      • Set your arms by your head with your hands lightly touching your temple
      • You may lock your feet in, or keep them free. Whichever you decide, don’t lift yourself with your legs
      • Bring your torso up towards your legs until your elbows are as close as you can get them to your knees
      • Lower yourself slowly back into your starting position. The slower you can manage the better
      • Repeat as many times as possible

      Decline Sit-up variants

      • If you’re becoming too accustomed to your bodyweight your progress is going to plateau after a while. When you’re ready to push yourself further than stacking on more sets can take you, consider clutching a plate while you do your decline sit-ups
      • If you want to take it further than that, you can set up underneath a barbell, and combine your decline sit-ups with a military press. Start by holding the bar up above you, and as you lift your torso upright, keep the bar raised above your head. This has the benefit of working some of your other upper body muscles like your triceps. You’ll see just how important your core strength is immediately.

      Wide Leg Cross Sit-ups

      Wide leg cross sit-ups are a lot like your classic sit-up. These aren’t too different from your standard sit-up, but keeping your feet in a wide-leg stance does a couple of things for your abs. You’re more accurately representing the motion that your abs are responsible for in daily life, and when you work with your body’s natural range of motion you’re going to get more out of your exercise. After all, when you’re in the gym your goal is to work your muscles as fully and accurately as possible. This motion also places less pressure on your lower spine, so that’s reason enough to pick these over your regular sit-up. 

      They’re also great for keeping your mobility up. You’re going to be reaching for your toes during this exercise, and keeping your body limber is one of the most important aspects of fitness people tend to overlook. If you’re the type of guy that’s regularly incorporating deadlifts into your workout routine and forgetting to stretch throughout the week, you may find some relief in the wide leg cross sit-up. If you keep this in your back pocket, you’ll start to see increased flexibility in your hamstrings and lower back. 

      • Start by lying down on the floor with your legs in a wide stance and your arms out at 45-degree angles 
      • Bring your back up off of the floor until you’re in a sitting position
      • Keep your legs flat on the ground throughout this motion
      • Reach one hand over to your opposing toe
      • Lower your upper body back down to the floor
      • Repeat and reach across with your opposite hand

      Keeping up with the Coredashians

      Your core is what keeps your body together. Any kind of real strength that you’re working towards starts in your core and depends on your ability to control your body. If you can increase your core strength then you can become a powerful lifter. The key to a great body is a solid core, and these calisthenic exercises are going to make that journey a breeze as long as you’re willing to put in the time.


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