6 Best Calisthenics Exercises For A Rock Solid Core

Core training in calisthenics is essential for developing a strong and stable midsection, which plays a vital role in supporting your body during various movements and exercises. A well-trained core not only enhances your overall athleticism but also improves your performance in calisthenics skills and exercises.

Core training in calisthenics is essential for developing a strong and stable midsection, which plays a vital role in supporting your body during various movements and exercises. A well-trained core not only enhances your overall athleticism but also improves your performance in calisthenics skills and exercises. Read this guide to find out how to develop a core of steel!

Image by Sabo Rares from Pixabay

Understanding the Anatomy of the Core: how to Target specific Muscles

When training the core it is good to have a basic understanding of the anatomy of the core, so you know how target the right muscles.
The core refers to the group of muscles located in the center of your body, specifically the torso and pelvis area. It consists of several muscles that work together to provide stability, support, and movement for the spine and pelvis.
The core muscles consist of the following muscles:

  • Rectus Abdominis: This is the “six-pack” muscle located in the front of the abdomen. its primary function is to flex the spine forward, bringing the ribcage closer to the pelvis.
  • Internal and External Obliques: These muscles are located on the sides of the abdomen, its primary function being rotation and lateral flexion of the spine.
  • Erector Spinae: The erector spinae is located in the lower back and runs along the spine. The primary function of the erector spinae muscles is to extend the spine, allowing you to stand upright and maintain good posture. The erector spinae muscles also play a role in spinal flexion, allowing you to bend forward and round your back.
  • Glutes: But we are not going to focus too much on them in this article, you can read more about how to train them in this leg training guide!

6 Best Calisthenics Core Exercises

Now you have a basic understanding of the anatomy of the core muscles, it is time to get to business. Here are the 6 best calisthenic core exercises you can do:

1. Dragon flags

The Dragon Flag can help you build a rock-solid core, like no other exercise. Dragon Flags target the core muscles, particularly the rectus abdominis and hip flexors. The Dragon Flag primarily works the core muscles isometrically. This makes it an effective exercise for strengthening the core isometrically, improving core stability, and developing the ability to resist forces acting on the body.

How to perform the dragon flags:

  1. Find a sturdy bench or a horizontal bar that can support your weight.
  2. Engage your core muscles by tightening your abs and glutes. This will help stabilize your body throughout the movement.
  3. Begin the movement by lifting your legs and lower body off the bench while keeping your upper body and torso stationary on the bench. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your toes.
  4. Slowly lower your body while maintaining control. Lower your lower body towards the ground, ensuring that you maintain tension in your core muscles all the time and avoid arching the lower back.
  5. Once your legs are almost parallel to the ground, pause for a moment and then engage your core muscles again to lift your body back up to the starting position.

It’s critical to have a solid core foundation before attempting the dragon flag. Begin by doing the dragon flag with your legs tucked, then extend them further out as you gain strength. When the tucked variations become too easy, try the one-leg variation. Negatives (only doing the eccentric part) are also a great way to build strength for the entire movement.

2. Hanging leg raises/Hanging knee raises

Hanging leg raises and knee raises are two popular calisthenics exercises that primarily target the abdominal muscles, particularly the lower rectus abdominis and the hip flexors. It is an effective exercise for developing core strength, stability, control, and learning skills such as the l-sit pull over.

Photo by Airam Dato-on 

How to perform the hanging leg raises:

  1. Find a sturdy pull-up bar or apparatus that allows you to hang freely with your arms fully extended. Ensure that the bar is at a height where your feet won’t touch the ground when hanging.
  2. Your core and hip flexor muscles should be contracted to begin the movement. Maintaining a straight posture, extend your legs out in front of you until they are parallel to the floor. Instead of relying solely on your hip flexors or even using momentum, maintain control throughout the movement by using your abdominal muscles to lift your legs by slightly flexing the lower spine.
  3. Pause briefly at the top of the movement.
  4. Slowly lower your legs back down to the starting position, ensuring that you maintain control and avoid dropping your legs. Lower them until your legs are fully extended, but do not let your feet touch the ground.

To get the most benefit from hanging leg raises or knee raises, it’s important to avoid swinging or using momentum to complete the exercise.

Start with hanging knee raises and progress to hanging leg raises when you can do 3 sets of 10-12 reps with good form. Next, you can do toes to bar leg raises, where instead of raising your legs to parallel, you bring them all the way up so your toes touch the bar.

Top tips for success:

  • Keep your upper body stable and avoid excessive swinging or using momentum.
  • Maintain a controlled and slow tempo throughout the exercise.

3. Ab rollout

The ab rollout is a challenging and effective exercise for targeting the core muscles, specifically the rectus abdominis (six-pack muscles), as well as the obliques and stabilizer muscles (such as the lower back).

Photo by Jonathan Borba

How to perform the ab rollout:

  1. Brace your core by tightening your abdominal muscles and maintaining a neutral spine.
  2. Extend your arms and move your body slowly forward while rolling the ab wheel or rings. Throughout the entire movement, maintain a tight core and a straight back.
  3. Continue rolling forward until your body is fully extended.
  4. Pause for a brief moment, then engage your abs and slowly roll back to the starting position.

It’s important to note that the ab rollout can be a challenging exercise, especially for beginners. If you’re new to this exercise, you may want to start with modified versions, such as performing the movement with your knees on the ground. As you gain strength and stability, you can progress to the full ab rollout. Remember to listen to your body and stop if you feel any pain or discomfort.

Tips for best results:

  • Maintain a neutral spine throughout the exercise. Avoid arching or rounding your back.
  • Focus on keeping tension in your core through the whole movement.
  • Avoid relying solely on your arms or shoulders to roll out or back in, use your core.
  • Avoid ego training: do it slow and controlled to get the most out of the exercise, and don’t be afraid to do an easier variation if you can’t do the full version with proper form.

4. Reverse hyperextension

When focusing on core training, it is crucial to give proper attention to the muscles of the posterior chain(the lower back). Reverse hyperextensions are a great exercise for building strength in the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. It is effective as well for building lower body strength for calisthenics skills such as the back lever and planche.

How to perform reverse hyperextensions:

  1. Lie face down on a flat bench positioned horizontally.
  2. Position yourself so that your hips are near the edge of the bench, and your legs extend off the back either in a tuck or straight position depending on your strength level.
  3. Place your hands on the sides of the bench or grip the front of the bench for stability.
  4. Engage your core by tightening your abdominal muscles and maintaining a neutral spine.
  5. Begin the movement by lifting your legs and squeezing your glutes, raising them upward until they are parallel to the ground.
  6. Pause for a brief moment at the top of the movement, focusing on squeezing your glutes and engaging your lower back.
  7. Slowly lower your legs back down to the starting position, maintaining control and resisting the urge to drop them quickly.

If they are too hard, try doing an easier variation like the tucked reverse hyperextension, which means you tuck your legs to decrease the lever. Another good progression is the straddle reverse hyperextension, where you spread your legs out wide in a v-shape.

Form cues to excel at reverse hyperextensions:

  • Squeeze your glutes to initiate the movement and lift your legs off the ground. Focus on using your glutes and lower back muscles, rather than relying on momentum.
  • Avoid excessive arching of the lower back and uncontrolled extension, try to posterior tilt your pelvis and flatten you lower back. A slight curve in the lower back is natural and fine.

5. Side plank raise

When training the core it is important not to neglect training the obliques, as they can often be overlooked in favor of the abs. Side plank raises are a superior variation of the traditional side plank exercise, involving a broader range of motion and targeting the obliques, transverse abdominis, and glutes.

Jaykayfit, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

To perform the side plank raise:

  1. Start by lying on your side on an exercise mat. Place your elbow directly beneath your shoulder, ensuring that your forearm is resting flat on the ground.
  2. Extend your legs fully and stack them on top of each other. Your feet should be touching.
  3. Engage your core by contracting your abdominal muscles, and lifting your hips off the ground, creating a straight line from your head to your heels.
  4. Ensure that your body is properly aligned, with your neck in line with your spine and your shoulders and hips stacked vertically.
  5. Pause briefly at the top of the movement, feeling the contraction in your oblique muscles.
  6. Slowly lower your body back down to the starting position.
  7. Repeat the exercise for the desired number of repetitions, then switch to the other side.

If you can’t perform the plank side raises, build up strength with the static side plank.
Proper form and control are crucial for getting the most out of the exercise and reducing the risk of injury.
To make the exercise harder try raising your body past the straight line, for a great range of motion.

Form cues:

  • Maintain stability and balance throughout the exercise. Avoid letting your hips rotate.
  • Keep constant tension in the core, thorough the whole movement.

6. Crawling

Exercises that involve crawling are a great way to build stability and core strength while also working various body parts. Bear crawls and lizard crawls are two good examples of crawling variations. These variations, as opposed to the other exercises on the list, will work your core muscles from every angle.

Bear Crawl

How to crawl like a pro:

Pick a variation that suits your current fitness level: There are various crawling variations to choose from, such as bear crawl and lizard crawl. Consider your strength, mobility, and comfort level when selecting a crawling exercise. Start with a variation that allows you to maintain proper form and control throughout the movement.

  • How to perform Bear Crawl: Start on your hands and feet, with your knees slightly lifted off the ground. Move opposite hand and foot together to crawl forward or backward.
  • How to perform Lizard Crawl: Start in a push-up position and crawl forward or backward by moving one hand and the opposite leg simultaneously, similar to a lizard crawling.

Honorable mentions

1. L-sit/V-sit/Manna

L-sit variations are fun and work the core to some extent, but also rely a lot on upper body strength.

2. Hyperextension

Great exercise for the posterior chain, but can be hard to do without the right equipment.

Calisthenics Core Workout Program

It’s time to build a rock-solid core with this workout program that incorporates 6 of the best core exercises.

Warm-up:

  • 5-10 minutes of light cardio, such as jogging or jumping jacks.
  • Dynamic stretches for the core, such as trunk rotations and cat-cow stretches.

Workout:

Exercise 1: Dragon Flags: 2-3 sets x 6-12 reps

  • Pick a progression you can perform for around 6-12 reps

Superset 1: Reverse Hyperextension: 2-3 sets x 6-12 reps // Ab Roll Out: 2-3 sets x 6-12 reps

  • Focus on proper tension, and remain tight.

Superset 2: Side Plank Raises: 2-3 sets x 8-12 reps on each side // Hanging Leg Raises/Hanging Knee Raises: 2-3 sets x 10-12 reps

  • Focus on not swinging and staying in position, when performing knee raises.

Exercise 2: Crawling

  • Duration: 2-3 sets of 6 minutes in total
  • Instructions: Perform different crawling variations such as bear crawl, lizard crawl, or crab walk, moving forward and backward in a controlled manner, focusing on engaging your core and maintaining proper form.

Cool-down:

  • 5-10 minutes of light stretching, focusing on the core muscles and other areas that feel tight or tense.

Top tips for succes:

  • Don’t train to failure on every set, keep one or two reps in the tank to avoid fatigue. 
  • Remember to adjust the number of sets, repetitions, and rest periods based on your fitness level and individual needs.
  • It’s important to maintain proper form throughout the exercises and listen to your body. Gradually increase the intensity and difficulty of the workout over time as you become stronger and more comfortable with the movements.

Final thoughts

training your core is crucial for stability, functional strength, body control, injury prevention, and overall physical performance. Incorporating these core exercises into your calisthenics routine can have numerous benefits that extend beyond just aesthetics, improving your overall fitness and speeding up your progress in other exercises.

Any exercises i missed? Leave them in the comments!

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