In 2021 and beyond, more people are staying at home. Pandemics and work-from-home trends have shifted the need to ax the gym membership and get strong abs and perform core exercises in the comfort of your living room. But what core workouts should you do? Where do you start?
Today, I’ve got 3 amazing core workouts that don’t require any weights. They are fantastic for helping you get a strong core and improving your overall physique.
WHY IS EACH BODYWEIGHT CORE WORKOUT BELOW SO EFFECTIVE?
Each workout is considered “whole body”. Yes, they engage your core. Your abs will be sore. Your obliques will tighten and your low back will get stronger.
But they use the other muscles in your body as stabilizers. So each of these workouts could be a stand-alone, full-body workout. After all, it’s 2021! Why would you still do a bunch of crunches and sit ups and think you are still getting a good core workout.
Those exercises place so much strain on your low back and spine.
Ok, so here are my favorite bodyweight-only core workouts to help you tighten your abs and strengthen your physique.
CORE WORKOUT 1: THE 10 MINUTE HARDCORE WORKOUT
INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE 10 MINUTE HARDCORE WORKOUT
For each exercise, do as many reps as you can in 30 seconds then immediately move to the next exercise. Once you finish 1 round, rest for 30-40 seconds. Do 5 total rounds.
- Plank on Forearms
- This exercise is designed to strengthen your entire core section including the erector spinae muscles that run up and down your back. These muscles help you maintain good posture. You could do this from a high plank position (which would be on your hands) or on the forearms as the workout recommends. One key tip for this exercise. Keep your shoulder blades tight. You don’t want to slump down. This can be too much strain on your low back. When you keep your shoulder blades tight, your upper back will look a bit rounded. This is called a “hollow body” in gymnastics.
- Mountain climbers
- You’ll be in a high plank position in the starting position. Your hands will be flat on the floor. Raise your left knee up until it’s just past the 90-degree angle. Then bring it to starting position. Repeat on the opposite side. If this is too difficult, you can bring your legs to a 45-degree angle instead. This is another exercise that strengths the ever-important erector spinae group because you are using these muscles to stabilize your body.
- Plank Extended
- This is a unique core exercise because you’ll have your arms extended one at a time. This forces your abs to stabilize while you hold the position. It builds overall core strength To make the exercise more challenging, you can lift the opposite leg in the air. If that’s too difficult, just keep your leg down as you hold the posture. Another modification is instead of lifting your left arm, you can just lift your left hand when you are in the position. Then lift your right hand on the other side.
- V Ups
- One of my favorite exercises to build core muscles and improve core strength. This is the perfect exercise for the rectus abdominis because you’ll be bringing your arms and legs up simultaneously. If it’s too difficult to keep your legs straight, keep your knees bent. This will ease the pressure on your abs.
- Instead of 30 seconds, do every exercise until failure.
- Instead of plank extended, do another plank on forearms.
CORE WORKOUT 2: THE SORE CORE WORKOUT
If you’ve been moving your body, good. You will move it even more with this workout. If you’ve been inactive, good. You’ll make up for the whole week with this workout.
Because with this workout your CORE will be so SORE, you will be screaming “NO MORE!”
Well, it’s actually not that crazy. This is a nice workout for your core, especially your abs and lower back. It’s a great way to end your week on a positive note. So download the workout sheet below and join the SOA community in doing our Friday Workout
INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE SORE CORE WORKOUT
Do each exercise for the total amount of seconds then immediately move to the next exercise. Once you finish 1 round, rest for 15-30 seconds. Do 5 total rounds.
Below are links to instructional material showing you how to do the exercises with good form. Below each exercise is a link to one of my best articles related to that particular exercise, purely for your entertainment. Don’t be afraid to explore!
- Flutter Kicks
- This exercise strengthens the lower portion of the abs and hip flexors. In the starting position, your left leg will lift up first, then your right leg as you bring your left leg back down. You’ll alternate in this way until you are “fluttering” your legs… kind of like you were swimming. Keep your core tight. If you wanted to make this exercise extra challenging, you could lift your left arm as your legs are fluttering. Then lift your right arm. If it’s too difficult, simply keep your knees bent. Flutter your legs at a slower pace.
- I’ve thrown this exercise in to develop core strength in your back, after all… so many people forget about their back and it gets weak. You’ll keep your arms extended above the ground in front of you. Your legs will be off the ground too. There are a couple of ways of doing this exercise. You can lift your upper body and lower body and keep it still as an isometric exercise. Or you can flutter your left arm and right leg, then alternate with the other side.
- V Ups
- As mentioned in the above description, keep your knees bent if it’s too difficult to keep your legs straight. This is probably the king of rectus abdominis exercises. Although it’s definitely more advanced.
- For this exercise, you’ll keep your feet flat on the ground and drive your hips up as high as you can. Believe it or not, but your glutes should be part of your training when developing a strong core. A lot of people think they are not but they originate in your pelvis which is part of your core. So it’s important to work them while doing core workouts. Additionally, you’ll want to keep your feet flat and drive your heels into the ground. This will prevent too much strain from going into your knees. Think of this exercise as a laying squat. With a squat, you drive your knees outward to prevent them from collapsing inward. You’ll do the same thing with this exercise.
- Leg-up Crunches
- If you are looking for a rectus abdominis exercise, then this is it. Your abs will be burning on this one. In the starting position, you’ll be laying on your back. Lift your legs up. You can keep your knees bent slightly or keep them straight. Now curl your upper body upward. Make sure you don’t pull your neck if your hands are behind your head. You’ll be performing a crunch-like motion. Your core muscles with be engaged the entire time, especially because your legs are up in the air. Again, this exercise is WAY more effective for your rectus abdominis muscle group than crunches ever were.
Can you do each exercise for a full minute instead of 40 seconds? If you think you can, make that your advanced modification. Let me know if you’re still alive by the end of the workout.
Instead of 40 seconds, choose any amount of time you think you can do and stick to it. You can download the workout sheet below, print it, and modify it as you want.
BONUS! DOWNLOAD THE SORE CORE WORKOUT WORKOUT SHEETS
CORE WORKOUT #3: THE TRIPLE CORE CALISTHENICS WORKOUT
In this workout, you’re going to do three grueling core exercises, and then you’re going to do them again FOR MORE TIME and WITHOUT ANY REST IN BETWEEN.
We know this is brutal, but it just has to happen, so let’s get right to it.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE TRIPLE CORE WORKOUT
Do each exercise for the total amount of seconds then immediately move to the next exercise. Once you finish one round, rest for 50 seconds. Do 5 rounds total.
- Plank on Forearms
- As mentioned in the above description, you can do this exercise from a high plank or on your forearms. When you do this exercise from a high plank, you’ll be engaging more of your shoulders and triceps because your arms will be stabilizing your body more.
- V Ups
- Again, you can’t forget about this rectus abdominis exercise. If first learned this exercise watching Jack Lalanne. So if you want abs of steel like the late great Jack (creator of the Jumping Jack… true story), then make sure to do this exercise as best as you can.
- Flutter Kicks
- Lay on the ground. You can place your hands under your low back for support. Lift your legs up about 2-3 inches. Now start alternating them. Lift one leg up an additional 5-6 inches. Then bring it back to the starting position while simultaneously lift your other leg.
- For the second series of sets, instead of 50 secs, go to failure
- Another way to increase the difficulty of this core workout is to strap ankle weights. This will make the V Ups and Flutter Kicks extra challenging. Remember, you want to challenge your muscles in new ways in order to prevent plateau. You can increase time under tension, reps, frequency, etc. But there is nothing like the feeling of strapping some ankle weights to your body as you do core exercises. Ugh… abs will be on fire.
- Rest 10-15 seconds between sets
- For a lot of these core exercises, you can keep your legs bent. For example, if the Plank on Forearms exercise is too difficult keep your legs bent and place them on the floor. This will take a lot of the pressure off your abs.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU DO THESE CORE WORKOUTS?
It depends on how strong you are already. If you are just starting on your fitness journey, I’d recommend choosing one or two of the workouts above a week. And do the minimum time periods in each workout. Don’t try to push yourself at first. Just build the habit of a routine.
As you progress and get stronger, increase the duration for each exercise. These workouts won’t replace a traditional workout plan, But you can certainly add them to your routine to accelerate your abdominal training.
You could also just choose one routine for a week. Do it 2-3 times. For example, Mon/Wed/Fri. Then the next week, choose the next workout and do it Mon/Wed/Fri. Then the third week, choose the last routine. This will keep things fresh for your core and help you get so much stronger.
ADDING VARIETY TO THESE CORE WORKOUTS
Remember that your body needs new stimuli to help it get stronger. Here are several ways to “mixing things up” to prevent a plateau.
- Change the duration of each exercise
- Change the rest period of each exercise
- Add ankle or wrist weights
- Change the order of the exercise
- Change the difficulty of each exercise (for example, if you normally keep your knees bent, straighten them out)
- Increase speed (for example, with the mountain climbers, perform the exercise faster)
WHAT MUSCLE GROUPS ARE WORKED?
The above core workouts strengthen every muscle in your core region. Think of it like 360-degree training. When you rely solely on crunches or sit-ups, you are really just strengthening your rectus abdominis which is the front muscle group of your abs. These exercises strengthen your obliques, Erectus spinae and literally every muscle in your core.
WHY ARE THESE 3 CORE WORKOUTS UNIQUE?
I’ve designed these exercises to incorporate “whole body” exercises. Yes, they primarily target the core region of your body. But your body is an integrated unit. When you focus too much on exercises that isolate, there are smaller stabilizer muscles that get missed. It’s healthier for you to focus on functional strength. And the majority of the workouts you perform should be designed around functional strength.
For example, say all you did was exercises that strengthened your rectus abdominis muscles (your front part of the abs)? Sure, your abs may look great. But what if you had to lift the groceries out of your back seat. If your erector spinae, transverse abdominis, internal abdominal obliques, etc weren’t as strong as your rectus abdominis, then you could easily pull a muscle.
That’s what I mean by “functional strength”. It’s important to work your body as a unit. That’s one of the major benefits of calisthenics exercises (all the above exercises are calisthenics).
EXTRA BODYWEIGHT WORKOUTS TO HELP YOU GET STRONGER IN 2021!
The Sunshine Core Workout (in case you need something else to spice up your workouts beyond the 3 workouts above).
Here for you, if you have any questions! Here’s to a stronger 2021!