5 Best Core Exercises for Calisthenics

Aug 24 / Jacko

headlines

Master the basics before you move to harder core training challenges in order to maximise your long term calisthenics progression.
  • The core is at the heart of all movement. 
  • The core is defined as “the structures that make up the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex (LPHC), including the lumbar spine, the pelvic girdle, abdomen and the hip joint” [1].
  • The core is more than just a six-pack

Exercises

  • 1.Deadbug
  • 2. Plank
  • 3. Hollow Rocks
  • 4. Rollouts
  • 5. Dragon Flag

INTRODUCTION

The core is at the heart of all movement. Building a strong and stable core, by following the 5 core exercises and tips outlined below, is going to help you with any movements, training or strength work that you do, even outside of what you might deem Calisthenics.

Within Calisthenics the core and being able to control it is so important because we are not isolating muscle groups like in bodybuilding, in fact, we are doing the opposite, we are trying to link muscle groups together (as the body was designed), whilst moving or holding isometric (stationary) movements. At the centre of all the muscle groups, you’re trying to link together is always the core. If your core is weak and can’t stabilise the spine and pelvis, then even basic movements like push ups are going to feel difficult.

If you were a house, the foundations would be your core. The supporting structures of the house rely heavily on strong foundations. If the foundations of a house are not deep enough to support the load of those supporting structures, what happens? The house doesn’t fall down immediately, but cracks start to appear. If action is not taken to fix the underlying problem in the foundations then the cracks grow and the integrity and safety of the house become compromised.

In an ideal world, the foundations are built correctly at the start, but as you probably know in real life the ideal rarely happens. If you’re starting your calisthenics journey then make sure you get your core foundations in place at the start. If you’ve already started in calisthenics or have a background in training and you’ve noticed some ‘cracks’ appearing, weak links, niggles or injuries, make sure you go back and address the foundations of your core.

WHAT ACTUALLY IS THE CORE?

The term ‘core’ and ‘core training’ has become widely used within the fitness industry, and so like anything that gets used a lot, the meaning or purpose of it gets diluted or altered, a bit like Chinese whispers!

These days any abdominal exercise from a simple crunch or sit up to very advanced movements like dragon flags gets put under the umbrella of ‘core training’. This is simply a misunderstanding of what the ‘core’ is made up of and what its job is.

SO HOW DO WE ACTUALLY DEFINE WHAT THE CORE IS?

Write your awesome label here.
The core is defined as “the structures that make up the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex (LPHC), including the lumbar spine, the pelvic girdle, abdomen and the hip joint” [1].

So in simple terms, the core is all about controlling the pelvic region. How we do that is by two separate muscular systems; the local stabilisation system and the global stabilisation system. The local core stabilisers are; transverse abdominis, internal oblique, lumbar multifidus, pelvic floor and the diaphragm. All these muscles attach directly to the vertebrae and are slow-twitch (type I) muscle fibres [2], meaning they work best under small loads for longer periods of time. So heavy loads and not many reps or at speed are not going to really target your local core stabilisers.

The global stabilisation system includes quadratus lumborum, psoas major, external oblique, glute medius, adductor complex and the popular rectus abdominis or six-pack muscles! These muscles attach the pelvis to the spine and act to transfer loads between the lower and upper extremities [2], which is a huge aspect of calisthenics.

However, when training the ‘core’ people often misunderstand what they are trying to do. They don’t have control and alignment of their pelvis, hips and lower back and therefore only work the global stabilisers. You can build up your global stabilisers including the rectus abdominis and have a great six-pack, but completely under-train or miss altogether your local core stabilisers.

I found this out personally the hard way! Years of sit-ups in my bedroom (100 in the morning and 100 at night as a minimum) certainly build up my rectus abdominis, to which I was happy as like most teenagers I wanted those ‘six-pack’ abs. I’d done so many by the time I was playing professional rugby the term ‘turtle shell’ was used to describe my oversized abdominals. I was pretty happy with that though, as I thought big abs meant I had a strong core. However once I’d retired from professional rugby and took up calisthenics it was clear I didn’t have a strong ‘core’, despite all those ab workouts. The rectus abdominis I’d built up was hiding the fact that I’d not developed my transverse abdominis and other core stabilisers. More complex things in calisthenics were causing me problems, cracks were starting to appear and I needed to go back to basics and sort out my foundations.

So don’t make the same mistake as me, learn from my mistakes and use the 5 exercises below to develop a strong and stable core that you can rely on!

5 BEST CORE EXERCISES:

1. Deadbug

This is a great exercise that can be progressed or regressed depending on your ability. The important thing here is again making sure you are working the correct muscles you’re trying to target (pelvic floor and transverse abdominis).
Write your awesome label here.

2. Plank

The plank is a great exercise to help learn the correct alignment of the LHPC (lower back, hips and pelvis). Too often the problem is people don’t have the correct alignment, so they are not activating their local core stabilisers. The effect is the global stabilisers, which you’re not trying to target (although they will provide some assistance), take over and compensate making your weak core even weaker as the compensatory muscles get even stronger. So poor alignment in your plank will make your problem worse, not better.

So it’s not simply about doing a certain exercise to fix any problem, it’s about doing the right exercises correctly! Watch the video below for the correct alignment and coaching cues to get it right.
Write your awesome label here.

3. HOLLOW ROCKS

Once you’ve mastered your Deadbugs and LPHC alignment in your Planks you can start to increase the difficultly of your core exercises. The hollow rocks challenge you to transfer force through the kinetic chain whilst maintaining trunk alignment, developing that all-important pillar strength.
Write your awesome label here.
If done correctly it’s a great exercise to target the lower abs and is the starting point for more advanced exercises like Dragon Flags (see exercise 5), and eventually more advanced calisthenics movements like handstands and levers.

4. ROLLOUTS

These are one of my favourite exercises, as you not only get to work the core muscles, but also work on some hip and hamstring mobility all in the same exercise. The key to it is recognising your sticking point and not trying to go past that point. Yes getting so low you can touch your nose on the floor is the name of the game but only if you can maintain that alignment you learned in the Plank exercise!
Write your awesome label here.

5. DRAGON FLAGS

My favourite exercise for building core strength, but only once you’ve mastered the foundation building exercises. Get these right and your abs will be hurting for days afterwards due to the combination of the load or force your generating to maintain alignment but also the stretching effect when you lower under control.
Write your awesome label here.
References:

[1] NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training 4th Edition. Clarke, Sutton, Lucett. 2014. p225.

[2] NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training 4th Edition. Clarke, Sutton, Lucett. 2014. p226.
7-Day Free trial

READY TO START CALISTHENICS?

GET STARTED TODAY!

We have packaged up our incredible training programmes into affordable and flexible membership packages.

You can access 12 online training programmes from as little as £9.99 per month with no contract and all subscriptions include a 7-day free trial so you can check it out before you commit. 

You can see the packages below or click here to go to the pricing page

online calisthenics membership