Core Workouts Calisthenics to Strengthen and Sculpt Your Core

If you want a sculpted, toned and stronger core, try these core workouts calisthenics. There's 3 workouts and advice on how to scale them.

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Do you want a flatter belly?

Lose the baby belly? The mum tum? The mommy pooch?

It’s one of the biggest goals that my clients come to me with.

Some used to have a flat belly, pre-baby, and want it back. For others, like me, they’ve never really had a flat belly and desperately want one.

It’s a massive driver for people to get healthy.

Well, these workouts will help. You will have to supplement these workouts with general cardio and a healthy diet, but they will help you tone and strengthen your core.


Let’s do this….

Core Workouts Calisthenics: Three workouts to sculpt and strengthen your core

Core Workouts Calisthenics: What are Your Core Muscles?

When most people think of their core, they tend to focus on they’re abdominal muscles. And to some extent they’re right. A large part of your core is your abs.

But, it’s not the only part of your core.

You’re core is bigger than your abs.

If you think of it this way, your core is the central part of your body. It’s your abs. It’s your back, particularly your lower back. It’s your bum. It’s your hip flexors. It’s your pelvis and your pelvic floor.

So, when you strengthen your core, you need to strengthen all of these muscles.

Not just your abs.

So, let’s look at a few of the muscles we’ll be targeting in our calisthenics core workouts.

What are your core muscles?

Rectus abdominis

These are the muscles commonly referred to as your six-pack abs. They stretch from your rib cage and your pubic bone.

The obliques

Made up of your Internal obliques and external obliques they are known as your side abs and help to create a twisting movement in your trunk.

Transverse abdominis muscles

These are the deepest layer of your ab muscles. They wrap around your waist like a corset or a belt. It’s a really important muscle it's the one associated with good posture. It helps with breathing, stabilising your back and supporting your abdominal wall.

Lower back muscles and your hip flexors

These are an important part of your core. They’re aren’t ab muscles, but they are connected to them and considered a part of your core.

Any good core, or even ab workout, should include lower back and hip flexor exercises.

Your glutes are also a huge part of your core, they’re actually a huge part of your body in general, they’re the biggest group of muscles on your body. So, they deserve a workout all on they’re own.

If you want a great glute workout then check out my glute workouts.

Back to your core muscles.

So these workouts will primarily focus on your ab muscles, your lower back muscles and your hip flexors.

Core Workouts Calisthenics: Benefits of Having a Strong Core

I know we all want a flatter belly, but there are other reasons to work your core. Other benefits to having a super strong core.

Here are a few:

1. You’ll have better Posture

I don’t know about you but my posture isn’t great.

In fact it’s a bit appalling.

My shoulders slump, my neck sticks out, my lower back rounds.

I have to be really conscious of standing, and walking with better posture. I know when I hip flexors feel like they’re getting a great stretch.

But bad posture can be the result of a weak core, and it can cause a weaker core. It’s like a viscous circle.

Strengthening your core, might not fix your posture instantly, you might have to do other work, like stretching your chest, strengthening your trapezius muscles...but, it will be a great start and will significantly improve your posture.

2. You’ll have better balance and be more stable

You might not be too worried about your balance and stability at the moment, but there will come a time in your life when you will be.

As you get older slips and trips turn from being slightly annoying and embarrassing to potentially debilitating. And not just because you run the risk of really hurting yourself.

Once you do hurt yourself, your confidence gets knocked and you start to worry about going our on your own.

But, with a strong core you will be more stable on your feet.

My 92 year old grandfather had a fall a few months back.

He tripped.

Luckily he didn’t hurt himself. Not significantly anyway. He was a bit bruised.

The reason.

He’s always been active. He was actually a first Dan in judo. He no longer practices, but he dances. Anyway, he’s always had a super strong core. And even after years of not practising judo, when he tripped, his core was strong enough, and his muscle memory was strong enough, that he went straight into a judo role.

Your core is important now. But it will become even more important as you get older.

3. It’s going to help you with other sports.

Whether you want to dance, strength train, run, walk, swim, play tennis, play football, or just throw your kids about, having a strong core is going to help.

It’s because it stabilises the centre of your body and gives your limbs something to pull against.

Before you do anything, any kind of movement, your core should fire up before your limbs get to work. A strong core provides a great foundation for the rest of your body.

You’re only as strong as your weakest muscle.

If your core is the weak link, the rest of you won’t be able to get strong.

4. It will help reduce your pain

If you’re suffering with any kind of pain exercise is going to be the last thing on your mind. But, strengthening your core is going to help. Especially if that pain is lower back related.

I know there are many, many, many things that might be causing your lower back to hurt, but, a weakened core could be substantially adding to your pain. If it’s not the primary cause.

You see, when something in your body is weak, other areas, muscles, joints, have to take the strain. And if your core is weak, it’s usually your lower back that takes over.

So, a weak core may not be the initial cause of your lower back pain, but, having a strong core is not going to hurt it.

If you are suffering, please consult your doctor before you start any new workout routine and talk to a personal trainer about a suitable exercise programme and make sure you’re doing all of the exercises with good form.

5. It will makes everyday tasks easier

Being stronger generally makes everything easier, and this is no less the case with your core.

When the centre of your body is strong and stable, the rest of your body has less work to do. Your core can take the weight.

Bending over, putting shopping away, lifting your toddler, carrying your toddler, carrying shopping bags, even walking. They’re all made easier when your centre is strong.

Ok, shall we get on with the workouts?

Core Workouts Calisthenics: What you’re going to do

A calisthenics workout is essentially strength training, but using only your own body weight and gravity.

So, these workouts are going to be a little different than the other workouts you may have seen on Mamas that Move.

We’re going to be focusing on strength, rather than heart rate and fat loss.

There may still be a little of that, but mostly they will be few reps, more rounds and more rest.

You need the rest with a strength workout.

I will try and keep them short, around 15 minutes, but if you need more rest than stated, do take it. Remember, these workouts are about quality reps and not rushing through them.

If you’re going to tag these onto any other workout, do them at the end.

Your core is such a vital part of most exercises, if they’re fatigued because you’ve done them first, you won’t be able to complete other exercises properly.

All of these calisthenic exercises are bodyweight exercises. There are advanced versions where you might need a pull-up bar, but, it’s not essential. Even when you get stronger. Just adjusting the movement slightly will keep the exercises and the workouts challenging.

I go into detail on that below.

So, let’s get on with the movements.

I’m keeping all of the exercises to a beginner, intermediate level. There are some really cool advanced calisthenic movements, dragon flag, human flag, L sit for example, which would be great for strengthening your core.

But, it’s much better to work on the basics than to rush into those advanced moves.

Try them when you’re stronger.

If you’re already at that level check out the School of Calisthenics.

If not, let’s get to it.

Core Workouts Calisthenics: The Core Exercises

Core Workouts Calisthenics: Traditional Crunches

The traditional crunch is a great movement to include in your ab workout.

Crunches are a very similar motion to the sit up, but you do a small crunch rather than sit all the way up.

They work all of your ab muscles, and they work your hip flexors so they’re a great movement to increase your core strength.

Lie on the floor face up with your knees bent, feet close to your bum.

Engage your core and raise your shoulders off the floor.

You can put your hands behind your head, interlacing your fingers. But if you do this, make sure you don’t use your arms to do the exercise. The movement should come from your core. It might be easier, and less tempting if you hold your fingers tips to your temples.

Once you’re in position, make sure your core is still engaged and lift your shoulders a little further up to the ceiling and lower down, but not all the way to the floor.

Crunch Up, lower down. Crunch up. Lower down. And repeat.

Core Workouts Calisthenics: Bicycle crunch

The twisting motion involved in bicycle crunches is great for getting your obliques involved.

The starting position of a bicycle crunch is very similar to a traditional crunch. So lying on the floor with your knees bent and your feet close to your bum.

This time, when you raise your shoulders off the floor, you’re also going to raise your feet off the floor and bring your knees up so that your shins are parallel to the ceiling.

Once you’re in this position you’re going to crunch up, but as you do you’ll take your right elbow over to your left knee. Come back to centre and repeat on the other side, left elbow to right knee.

This is another great movement that targets your obliques just a little more due to the twisting motion.

Core Workouts Calisthenics: Reverse crunches

Reverse crunches are a great accompaniment to traditional crunches. They're also a great alternative if you struggle with the traditional movement.

Reverse crunches are great if you struggle with regular crunches. And you might find them a little easier.

If you are really struggling with traditional crunches, then substitute this movement in the workout.

This is another lying on the floor exercise, you can have your arms straight out, down by your side, or you can put your hands under your bum.

Legs go straight up in the air with your feet pointing to the ceiling.

Then raise your bum off the floor lifting your feet further up to the ceiling and lower back down.

This isn’t a big movement. It’s a crunch movement.

Core Workouts Calisthenics: Lying Knee Raises

Lying knee raises are a great alternative to hanging knee raises which can be rather challenging.

This is a modified version of the hanging knee raise. It is easier. So once you’re comfortable with this movement, and you’re stronger, try the hanging knee raise.

But, for the lying knee raise, lay down on the floor face up. You can have your arms straight out to the side, down by your sides, or put your hands under your bum. Your legs should be out straight.

Engage your core and lift your legs off the floor, bending your knees and bring them into your chest. Take your legs back out straight, but hover them above the floor.

And repeat.

If you find that difficult you can place your feet back on the floor and start again.

Core Workouts Calisthenics: Lying leg raises

The lying leg raise is also know as a leg lift. So if you see leg lift in a workout, it means this exercise.

Again lying on the floor arms out to the side, down by your side, or hands under your bum if needed. Engage your core and lift your legs straight up to the ceiling.

A slight bend in your knees is absolutely fine if it’s needed.

Then lower your legs back down but not all of the way to the floor.

It’s really important with this exercise, well all of them actually, that you keep your lower back pressed firmly into the floor.

Don’t let it raise. If it does, don’t lower your legs quite as far.

Keep repeating for the required reps.

Core Workouts Calisthenics: Windshield Wipers

I’ve used this exercise quite a few times in my ab workouts. It’s a firm favourite of mine. It’s great for targeting those oblique muscles, as there’s a lovely twist involved.

Laying on the floor face up, arms can be where ever you find comfortable. Engage your core and lift your legs straight up to the ceiling.

Keep a bend in your knees if you need to.

Keeping your upper body firmly routed to the floor take your legs over to one side, then return through centre and over to the other side. Like windshield wipers.

Core Workouts Calisthenics: Deadbugs

Deadbugs target the deepest layer of your abdominals so they're a really important exercise. Make sure the movement is controlled.

Deadbugs are an amazing exercise for targeting your deep core muscles, your transverse abdominis. And that is really important for everyone, but especially us mamas.

They won’t have your abs aching like mad the next day, but that doesn’t mean they’re not effective, nor a must do.

Laying on the floor raise your legs and your arms up. You should have a bend in your knees, so your shins are parallel to the ceiling and your arms should be pointing straight up.

Engage your core, lower your left leg and your right arm down to the floor. Lift back up and repeat on the other side, your right leg and left arm.

Repeat until you’ve done the required amount of reps.

Take this one easy. Really concentrate on controlling the movement. It shouldn’t be done as quickly as possible, it should be done with the best form possible.

Core Workouts Calisthenics: Mountain Climbers

Mountain climbers are a dynamic exercise based on the plank. It's a good exercise to compliment a mainly isometric workout.

Most people think of mountain climbers as a cardio exercise, and they’re right, they are. But they are also really great at working those ab muscles.

Get into a high plank position, down on the floor with your hands under your shoulders and your feet should be up on your toes.

Engage your core and bring your right knee up to your chest. It should come quite central to your chest. Return your toes to the floor and repeat on the other side.

This movement is quick. Think high knees, but facing the floor.

Core Workouts Calisthenics: Plank

The plank is a classic exercise. And for very good reason. It is a great exercise, it does the job of making cores stronger the world over. And it will make yours stronger as well. It works your entire core.

It’s one of the isometric exercises, there’s no movement involved. You just hold the position. It is tough. So be warned.

In the workouts below you start with a short time and work up. They’re not set in stone. Adjust them if you need to. If you’re just starting out, you might find 10 seconds is tough enough. If you’ve been exercising for longer, you might want to start with 30 seconds, possibly even 40 seconds.

The idea is to challenge yourself. And to keep challenging yourself. Keep these exercises feeling tough.

That way your body will always be adapting.

Core Workouts Calisthenics: Side Plank

A variation on the classic plank, this time you’ll be on your side, so only one side of your body will have contact with the floor.

Laying on your side, bring your elbow or your hand under your shoulder and your feet one on top of the other.

Lift your bum and hips off the floor so you’re in a diagonal straight line from your head to your feet.

Whether you’re on your hand or your elbow it doesn’t matter. It may be too painful or difficult on your wrist for you to be on your hand, so come down to your elbow.

You will still get stronger.

If you’re struggling with balance, put both feet on the floor, one in front of the other.

Also, if you’re finding it tough, drop your knees to the floor.

As with all of the other moves in this workout, start off with a short amount of time and slowly build. If you have to be on your knees, do the same thing. Get up to a minute on your knees and then try 10 seconds in the full variation.

Don’t rush it.

And remember to do both sides of your body.

Core Workouts Calisthenics: Hollow hold

The hollow hold is a very challenging ab exercise. To make sure you're doing it properly keep your lower back firmly pressed into the floor.

This is almost like an upside down plank.

So this time you’re laying on the floor face up. Make sure your shoulder blades are back and down, away from your ears. Engage your core and push your lower back into the floor.

Lift your lower body, your legs and your feet, and part of your upper body, your shoulders, your arms, your neck, your head, off the floor.

Hold in this position. Tensing your ab muscles.

Core Workout Calisthenics: The workouts

In all of the workouts below do each exercise for 8 – 15 reps, three times through. Rest for about 90 seconds between rounds.

Start with the lower number of reps and add a rep every couple of weeks. When you get to 15 reps, you’ll want to slightly change the workout.

You’ll be coming down to 1-5 reps but really slowing each rep down. So every part of every exercise for a count of 3.

Really control the movement.

Workout 1: All About the Crunches

Core workout based around the crunch, traditional crunches, bicycle crunches, reverse crunches.

Complete 3 sets of 8 – 15 reps for each exercise. Rest 90 seconds between sets:

  • Traditional crunch
  • Bicycle crunch
  • Reverse crunch

Workout 2: All About the Lifts

Core workout involving raises and lifts, knee raises, leg raises, windshield wipers and deadbugs

As you get more advanced, you can swap out the lying down movements to hanging movements, hanging leg raises, hanging knee raises etc. You will need a pull-up bar.

Complete 3 sets of 8 – 15 reps for each exercise. Rest 90 seconds between sets:

  • Knee Raises
  • Lying leg raises
  • Windshield Wipers
  • Deadbugs

Workout 3: The Holds

Core workout involving mainly isometric exercises, the plank, side plank and hollow hold. Mountain climbers are thrown in to get your heart rate up.

This one will be for time as you’re holding the movements, well, most of the movements.

Hold each exercise for 20 seconds, to start with, and do that three times through. Rest for about 90 seconds between sets.

As you get stronger add in a few more seconds, maybe 5 seconds every couple of weeks. When you get to a minute, change up the movements slightly. Make them a bit harder, use an unstable surface, take a limb off the floor, and drop down the time.

  • Mountain Climbers
  • Plank
  • Side Plank (right side and left side)
  • Hollow hold

Core Workouts Calisthenics: Go Strengthen Your Core

You might be after a flatter belly when you do a core workout, but there are so many benefits of having a strong core.

It’s a worthwhile endeavour, whatever your reason for doing it.

So, try one of these strength workouts and, as always, let me know how you get on.

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