Ab workouts are my favorite. There’s just nothing like the feeling of burning abs. Plus, having a strong core helps you in all other areas of fitness!
But they can be a tricky area to zone in on, especially if you’re not a fan of the gym. That’s why home calisthenics ab workouts are my favorite for targeting those hard-to-reach core muscles.
If you’re looking for the best home exercises to get a killer core, you’re in the right place. We’re going to walk through everything you need to know to get the most out of your core workouts!
Table of Contents
- 1 | The role of calisthenic ab workouts
- 2 | The role of nutrition
- 3 | Benefits of a strong core
- 4 | Overview of the core muscles
- 5 | Your calisthenics ab workouts schedule
- 6 | Best calisthenics ab exercises
- 7 | Calisthenics ab workouts examples and ideas /a>
- 8 | Tips for maximizing your core workouts
- 9 | Summary
- 10 | FAQ
The role of Calisthenic Ab workouts
It’s true that if you have a lot of excess fat around the middle, you’re just not going to be able to see any abs. But fat loss is just part (although a big part) of the equation.
The other part is muscle size. The bigger you make the core muscles, the more visible they will be when you do start losing fat.
The goal for abs then, is to increase the size of your core muscles through strength training.
The role of nutrition
You’ve probably heard something in the vein of: “Abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym.”
Personally, I am lukewarm on this statement at best.
Because yes, nutrition is important to your overall fitness. And you can’t outtrain a bad diet.
But in my experience, nutrition is really only half of the equation. The truth is this: you need to eat to support fat loss and muscle growth.
As far as nutrition goes, that’s it.
This post is about calisthenics ab workouts and not so much the nutrition side. So to keep things simple, just follow these two rules:
- You must eat at a calorie deficit to lose fat. Depending on how much weight you have to lose, aim for a 200-500 calorie deficit per day.
- You must eat enough protein. 0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight is the general rule of thumb. So if you weigh 150 lbs, aim for at least 120 grams of protein per day.
Other than that, try to eat clean. In other words, if what you usually eat doesn’t come from a plant or lean, high quality meat, try to sub it out for something that is.
Benefits of a strong core
Although most of us crave strong abdominals so we can look good on the beach, the benefits don’t stop at achieving a six pack. Having a strong core comes with many other benefits.
It’s worth noting these because the more motivation you have to build a strong core, the more likely you are to stick with your exercise regime!
Improves your balance
Do you consider yourself a bit a klutz? Stronger core muscles might help with that!
Your core muscles stabilize all other parts of your body. That means you can more easily hold your balance which means you’re less likely to trip, stumble, or otherwise hurt yourself.
The stabilizing effect of a strong core also prevents slouching and poor posture. Good posture is essential to your overall health as it keeps your bones aligned and minimizes tension in the muscles.
It also allows for proper breathing, minimizes back pain, and increases your confidence!
Supports spine health
Back pain is something that 16 million Americans struggle with and it can lead to high healthcare costs, lost work days, and poorer quality of life. But a strong core will help mitigate (or possibly even eliminate) back pain since it stabilizes these spine and facilitates proper alignment.
Improves overall functional fitness
From everyday tasks like bending over to pick something up to spending a day on your feet working, having a strong core improves all areas of functional fitness. Strong core muscles are even necessary if you spend all day sitting at a desk!
Overview of the core muscles
Before we get into the actual exercises, it’s important to understand what muscle groups you’re targeting and why. So here is a very quick anatomy lesson for you surrounding the main core muscles:
Internal & External Obliques
These muscles run along the sides of the rectus abdominis from the rib cage down to the hips. The external obliques run perpendicular to the internal obliques, which lay directly beneath. These muscles are best worked through lateral flexion and rotation. (Bending sideways and twisting the torso.)
The rectus abdominis (the quintessential muscle we’re referring to when we talk about “six pack abs”) It contracts to pull the rib cage towards the pelvis or vice versa. It’s through working this contraction that we can build up and strengthen these muscles.
Transverse abdominis (underlying)
Also known as the TVA muscle, transverse abdominals aren’t talked about as much as the obliques and rectus abdominis, but it nevertheless4 plays an important role in core strength. It’s one of the deepest layers of ab muscle and a major stabilizer of the lower spine.
If you ever suffer from low back pain, chances are you stand to gain from strengthening the TVA muscle.
You can really strengthen TVAs with isometric exercises, that is to say, exercises that involve holding a contraction for several seconds.
Surrounding lower back muscles
The core does consist of several other muscles in the lower back that play an important role in core strength, which means core workouts will contain lower back exercises as well.
This is a pair of big muscles that run from the lower spine to the femur. It’s involved in flexing your hip joining and bringing the thigh upwards, as in walking or running.
The Quadratus lumborum
The Quadratus Lumborum, or QL, is the deepest abdominal muscle located in the lower back. It plays an important role in stabilizing the spine when bending from side to side.
This is actually a group of muscles that run up either side of the spine from your sacrum to the base of your head.
Your Calisthenics ab workouts schedule
Ab workouts are best done as part of an overall strength training program. Because the more overall muscle you have, the more calories you burn, the greater the fat loss and muscle definition (aka, looking toned.)
It’s a good idea to do ab exercises as least 2-3 days a week. I often tag them onto my arm and back workouts.
Your workouts don’t have to be long. I typically do 20-30 minutes of active exercise per session. The key is to do one exercise after another without stopping for 6-7 minute increments to get your heart rate up and maximize muscle fatigue. (More on this in the workout ideas section.)
It’s also a good idea to alternate your ab workout days with cardio to maximize fat loss.
Then take at least 1-2 days off a week for rest and recovery.
Best calisthenics ab exercises
Now that we have the schedule down, let’s take a look at the best exercises for targeting each area of the core. Most of these exercises don’t require any equipment but there are a few that do require some basic items that can enhance your ab workout.
Sumo squat with side crunch or ankle tap
Stand with legs a little more than hip-width apart, with you toes facing outwards away from each other. Lower down into a sumo squat as far as you can go or until your thighs are parallel with the ground.
Lightly place your hands behind your ears, then crunch to the side by bringing your left elbow towards your left thigh. Come back to the starting position, then repeat on the right side.
To make this more challenging, you can extend your hand to tap the back of your ankle as you crunch down.
Standing side crunch (with leg raise or with weights)
Standing up tall with your feet hip-width apart, put your left hand lightly behind your left ear. Bring your elbow towards your left knee while simultaneously lifting your lift knee towards your elbow by crunching to the side.
Repeat 20-30 reps and then repeat on the other side.
Alternately, you can hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in your left hand down by your side, and simply crunch to the left and straighten up again.
Plank with side crunch
Come into high plank, supporting your weight with your hands directly under your shoulders and forming a straight line with your body from your head to your toes.
Crunch to the side by bringing your left knee in towards the outside or your left elbow. Return to plank and repeat with the other side.
Side plank with hip dips
Come into side plank, stacking your shoulders in a straight line. Dip your hips straight down until it is about an inch from the floor, then push back up to the starting position.
This exercise can be done from either high side plank or low side plank (on your forearm). High plank will be more challenging because you’ll have a greater range of motion.
Cross-knee mountain climbers
Starting in plank, bring your left knee in towards your right elbow without raising your butt. Quickly alternate your legs so that your right knee comes in towards your left elbow.
Continue to alternate your legs as quickly as you can.
Start by siding on the floor with bent knees and feet on the ground. Lean your torso back about 45 degrees. If you can, lift your feet off the ground into a half-boat pose.
Either holding a dumbbell or clasping your hands together, twist your torso from side to side.
Upper ab exercises
Start by laying on your back with your knees bend and feet flat on the ground. Lightly touch your hands to the backs of your ears.
Crunch your ribs towards your knees by contracting your abs, breathing out sharply as you do so. Do strain or pull your neck.
Start in half-boat pose, sitting on your butt with your legs up in the air and bent at the knee, arms held out alongside you.
Keeping your back straight and shoulders back, simultaneously stretch your legs out and down while leaning back until your back almost touches the floor. Using your abs, pull yourself back into a half-boat pose.
To make this even more challenging, you can do full V sit-ups by keeping your legs straight.
Lay on your back and lightly touch your hands to the backs of your ears. Lift your feet off the ground and bend your knees 90 degrees.
Tucking your lower back into the ground, crunch forward and bring your right knee towards your left armpit. Return to the stating position and repeat with your left knee towards your right armpit.
Lay flat on your back and bring your legs straight up so that they are perpendicular to the floor. Lightly touch your hands to the back of your ears. Exhaling deeply, crunch up towards your feet and reach your hands to tap your toes, and lower back down.
Come into high plank. Keeping your body in a straight line, quickly bring your right knee in towards your chest, then quickly alternate with the left leg. Smoothly alternate between the left and right leg as quickly as you can.
Ab wheel rollouts (ab wheel required)
Start off in tabletop position on your hands and knees. Grasp the handles of your roller with both hands. Keeping your core engaged, slowly roll forward, moving your arms and torso as far out in front of you as you can. Hold for a moment, then slowly use your abs to pull back into starting position.
Lower ab exercises
Lay on your back with your arms on the floor alongside you, palms down. Raise your legs with knees bent 90%, then exhale as you contract to bring your hips off the floor towards your chest.
Hold for a moment before slowly lowering to the ground. It’s important you avoid swinging your legs or using “momentum” to lift your hips.
Plank to pike with sliders (sliders required)
Start in a low plank position with each foot on a slider. Using your core muscles, slide your feet towards your elbows while keeping your legs totally straight until you are in a pike (upside down V.) Then return to the starting position.
Lying leg raises
Lay flat on your back with your legs outstretched. Pressing your low back firmly into the ground, lift your legs until they are perpendicular to the ground. Lower again until they are an inch from the ground then lift back up.
Lay flat on your back with your legs straight up, perpendicular to the ground. Spread your arms out to the sides, palms down to provide stability. Slowly move your legs to the side, keeping them straight until the are almost touching the ground, then back up and over to the other side.
If this is too challenging, you can bend your legs a little to make it a little easier.
TVA exercises (Isometric exercises)
Start on your hands and knees (tabletop), with your knees directly under your hips and your hands directly under your shoulders. Step back each foot so that your legs are straight, supporting your weight on your hands and toes.
Tuck your tail bone and keep your belly in so that there is a straight line from your head to your toes. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
Follow the same instructions as a high plank, except instead of supporting yourself on your hands you’re supporting yourself with your forearms, elbows directly under the shoulders.
Start by sitting on your bum with your feet flat on the ground in front of you. Lean your torso back, then lift your legs off the ground about 45 degrees and straighten your legs. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
If this is too challenging, you can also do half-boat pose in which you keep your legs bent at the knee.
Lie flat on your back with your legs on the ground. Flex your abs and firmly press your low back into the ground, then lift your shoulder blades and legs off the floor a few inches. You can do this move with your arms outstretched alongside you or over your head.
Hold for 20-30 seconds. Make sure you keep your chin off your chest to prevent neck strain.
Start in a high plank. Keeping your tailbone tucked and tummy tucked in, lift your left hand off the ground and roll onto the outer edge of your right foot, reaching your hand straight up.
Your hips and body should be perpendicular to the ground. Move back onto your toes into plank, and repeat with the other side.
Reverse plank with leg raises
Start by sitting on your bum with your legs straight out in front of you. Press your palms on either side of you under your shoulders.
Press your feet flat on the ground and squeeze your glutes to lift your hips off the ground until your body is a straight line.
Without letting your hips sag, lift one foot up as high as you can, hold for a moment, then lower back down. Repeat with the other leg.
One legged plank
Hold a high plank and lift your left leg straight up behind you, without letting your hips drop or bum pop up. Hold for 10-20 seconds then repeat with the other leg.
Stand tall with your feet about hip-width apart. Cross your arms over your chest and engage your abs. Keeping the back straight, push your bum back and bend forward at the hips until your torso is about parallel with the ground, then return to the starting position.
To make this more challenging, hold a dumbbell or kettlebell behind your head, remembering to keep your shoulders back and down.
Lay face down on your exercise mat, stretching your arms out in front of you. Simultaneously raise both arms and both legs off the ground as high as you can.
Squeeze the muscles in your back, bum, and legs as you lift up. Hold for a moment, and slowly lower back down about an inch from the ground, and repeat.
Calisthenics ab workouts examples and ideas
Now that we know the best exercises to target areas of your core, it’s time to put together a few workouts!
I like to do 7-minute circuits, containing 4-6 exercises, with a 1-2 minute rest in between, for a total of 3 sets. In each workout I like to target specific muscle groups.
For example one workout I might focus more on TVA muscles and lower abs, while another workout I would focus more on upper abs and obliques.
You could also do a slightly longer workout with four, 6-minute sets alternating between two different sets of exercises.
For beginners, you can modify some of the aforementioned exercises to make them easier until you build up the strength and stamina to do the full exercise.
Here are some great ab workout ideas for you based on this workout structure:
Workout 1 – Upper Abs and Obliques
Plank with side crunch x 20
V Situp x 15
Cross-knee mountain climbers x 30
Toe Taps x 30
Bicycle Crunch x 20
Russian Twists x 25
Workout 2 – Lower Abs, TVA, and Low back
Reverse crunch x 30
High plank x 30 seconds
Mountain climbers x 40
Reverse plank with leg raises x 10
Supermans x 15
Boat pose x 30 seconds
Tips for maximizing your core workouts
These calisthenics ab workouts are great to start with because they will definitely get you feeling the burn without needing any equipment. But these are just the beginning!
Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your ab sessions.
Consider investing in a few pieces of equipment to enhance your workouts. Ab rollers and weighted vests, and sliders can do wonders for cranking your core workouts up a notch!
(To this end, be sure to check out this buyer’s guide to the best equipment for calisthenics ab workouts.)
Mix it up and Step it up
If you do the exact same ab exercises every time, you’re going to plateau eventually. Keep your workouts challenging in order to keep progressing.
You can do this by finding new exercises and workouts or even just adding more weight and/or reps to whatever exercises you’re currently doing.
Don’t forget the cardio
Okay, cardio isn’t strictly necessary to get abs. And too much cardio can even hinder your progress. But 1-2 cardio sessions a week can go a long way to burning those extra calories and shaving off the fat that’s hiding your abs.
They don’t have to be long either, 20-30 minutes of HIIT cardio will do the trick!
The anatomy lesson and deep dive into the best exercises for your calisthenics ab workouts may seem a little overkill, but you’ll be thanking me once you start seeing the results!
Remember, its your fitness journey and your workout. You can always modify the exercises, time, or reps any way you need to. So long as it is challenging and you’re focused on form, you are on the right track!
What are your favorite ab exercises and workouts? Shout out in the comments!
You sure can! It’s important to remember that nutrition is an important part of building abs, but a strong core with developed muscles is what’s going to give you the definition. And calisthenics can definitely get you there.
I would recommend working out no more than 5-6 days a week and taking at least 1-2 days for rest and recovery.
It depends on what your goals and preferences are. If you hate weightlifting, for example, then calisthenics is better. Calisthenics, if done properly, can be great for increasing overall strength and muscle mass. However, if you are trying to develop specific muscles, weightlifting will likely be more effective.
In a nutshell? Lots of Cardio, protein, clean eating, and calisthenics ab workouts.