Having a strong core benefits us in ways we would never imagine.
From perfecting our golf swing to holding our son high above our head- these functional activities all engage the core.
Athletes of all sports agree core workouts are the common denominator, and having a strong midsection is necessary before building anything on top of it.
Before we talk about how to tone your 6-pack and boost your performance across all avenues of sport, let’s go through what exactly we mean by core and ab muscles.
And even before that, for our readers in a hurry, here’s an awesome core workout using only gymnastics rings:
What makes up the core?
Most people attribute a strong core to washboard abs and rippling waistlines.
While a well-trained and well-maintained core will result in bulging muscles (like any other muscle with proper training), it is not all surface level.
A true core workout will target all muscle groups- the ones we can see and the ones we can’t.
A strong core is the result of a well-balanced training circuit that targets the hidden groups as well.
To simplify the kinesiology which can be studied in-depth, we will talk about two main groups of muscles- the global stability muscles and the deep stability muscles.
Deep Stability Muscles
We start with these local stabilizers, or the deep muscles that attach directly to the lumbar spine and activate before a movement even starts.
If we are sitting, standing, talking or walking, these deep stability muscles are working at a low intensity to keep your entire core and trunk balanced and robust.
Some of the most essential local stability muscles are the diaphragm, the pelvic floor and then transversus abdominis. Only when this preliminary group needs help does the body activate the global muscle system to assist.
Global Stability Muscles
The global system is often referred to as the movement muscles. They are turned on and off according to how much they are needed.
They work in short bursts of speed and intensity, unlike the deep stability muscles that are working all of the time.
As a general rule, the global muscles do not attach directly to the spine but instead attach from the ribs to the pelvis. While the global muscles may assist in keeping the spine and lumbar region supported, the deep stability muscles do most of the work.
5 Timeless Core Exercises to Mix & Match
Time to go through some tried and tested core exercises that if done correctly and with proper technique will hit on both the deep stability group and the global movement group.
It is very important to remember that with core workouts, quality is much more important than quantity.
If we don’t practice proper technique, we end up not activating the deep stability group and instead put too much strain on other muscles trying to compensate.
Take your time to learn the proper technique and progress efficiently and slowly.
Real strength lies in simplicity, and the plank is the perfect example of that.
With plenty of modifications to keep this exercise fresh, it’s just silly to leave it out of your routine.
The plank activates your deep stability group first and calls on the global system to pick up the slack.
Start by lying on your stomach and placing your elbows comfortably on the ground under your shoulders. Press up through your forearms, straighten your spine and hold.
Modifications for this include straight arm plank, side plank, or plank one arm lifts. Before you challenge yourself, ensure your form is perfect.
If you feel strain in your back or neck, make sure you are engaging the core and maintaining good technique.
This is another test we must pass before we progress to harder workouts.
Start by lying on your back, your hands gently palms down by your side.
Push the lower back into the ground and raise your legs gently off the ground.
Point the toes, lock the knees and flutter the legs back and forth, trying not to touch the ground.
The closer the feet are to the ground, the more intense the workout. Start with 30 seconds to 1 minute at a time.
V stands for victory, and there is a cause for celebration after we have finished these exercises.
Lying flat on your back, bring your feet to the sky, pointing the toes for an extra challenge.
Try and keep the legs straight or allow a small bend at the knee if necessary.
As you raise your feet, raise your chest towards your legs with your hands outreached, trying to touch your toes.
If you’re doing it correctly, your body will fold into a “V”.
Just the word “Burpee” makes many gym-goers cringe with painful nostalgia.
Don’t worry, we are only doing half burpees, so it’s only half the cringe. Start in a straight arm plank position or push-up position.
While engaging the core and keeping a flat back, jump your feet between your hands. Then jump them back into plank.
If you’re up for the extra challenge and a shocking rise in heart rate, go for the full burpee. We dare you.
Slow Bicycle Crunch
It’s not about speed, it’s about form. We take a tried and tested bicycle crunch and we sloooow it right down.
Starting on your back, interlock your hands behind your head. Slowly bring one knee towards your chest, keeping the other leg pointing straight ahead, hovering just off the ground.
Twist the opposite elbow slowly to meet the knee, reset, and switch sides.
Move with determination and purpose, and keep your whole body strong and engaged. It’s a slow bike ride, but it burns.
Sample Calisthenic Ab Workouts:
Alright, time to get to work.
Start with a few of these simple ab workouts, and mix and match as you wish.
Once you get used to each of the exercises don’t be afraid to modify and get creative. We’ve started you off with a few recipes.
The “Start Slow” Ab Routine: 3 cycles
20 Slow Bicycles
Plank 30 Seconds
Flutter Kick 30 Seconds
10 Half Burpees
*1-minute rest between exercises, and 3-minute rest between cycles.
The “Kick It Up a Notch” Ab Routine: 3 Cycles
Flutter Kick 1 minute
20 Slow Bicycle
5 Half Burpees
Plank 45 seconds
Side Plank (each side) 30 seconds
*45-second rest between exercises 2-minute rest between cycles.
Chris is an experienced Calisthenics practitioner focused on isometric exercises and street workout. He founded thehybridathlete.com in 2017, which was subsequently acquired by theyhybridathlete.com
He is based in Portland and has been working out using solely his own body weight and bars for the past 6 years.