The Most Effective Calisthenics Workout For Abs [Just 15 Min]

This post may contain affiliate links: meaning we may receive a commission if you use them

Are you looking for a simple and effective calisthenics workout for abs?

You are in the right place.

After reading this post, you’ll learn

  • What the true function of the core is,
  • The best calisthenics ab exercises of all time, and
  • 2 simple ab workouts you can do in just 15-20 minutes a day

Are you ready? Let’s get started.

Disclaimer:

Although we are doctors and personal trainers, we are not your doctors. The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not substitute the advice from your healthcare professional. All kinds of exercise and dietary activities are potentially dangerous, and those who do not seek counsel from the appropriate health care authority assume the liability of any injury which may occur. Please read our full Disclaimer for more information. Also, this post may contain affiliate links: meaning we may receive a commission if you use them.

Okay, let’s get started.

All Effective Core Workouts Must Include This

You might assume that your core is just made up of your “six pack” rectus abdominis muscles.

As such, you are often led to believe that your core is meant to just flex your spine. While this is definitely one of the main functions of the rectus abdominis, it shouldn’t be what you should focus on.

Instead, you need to train your core for stability.

In other words, you need to do exercises that strengthen your ability to resist motion at the spine.

That is how you build a strong core.

If you think about it, a strong core is what allows you to transfer force through your extremities while remaining stable.

Take a squat for example:

Your core is working to maintain your spine neutral and upright as you exert force through your legs. The same is true for several other exercises.

The overhead press is another great example. Your core must keep your body tight to allow force to be transferred up overhead.

Without you realizing it, your core is constantly working to keep you stable during all types of movement.

So how do you train your core for stability?

I’m glad you asked.

The Absolute Best Type of Calisthenic Core Exercises For Stability

The most important type of core exercises you should do are anti-extension exercises.

In other words, you must be able to resist arching at the lower back.

This is CRITICAL.

Almost every major calisthenic exercise should be done with a flat or neutral spine. If you allow your low back to arch while performing core exercises, you run the risk of getting injured.

This is the position you want to avoid.

Some examples of anti-extension exercises are:

I’ll show some more concrete examples below.

In each one of these exercises, your core should work to prevent arching of your back.

Now let’s go over a few other movement patterns that train the core for stability. While these are great to add to your routine, anti-extension should be your main focus.

Anti-rotation exercises

The next group of exercises are the anti-rotation exercises. These movements resisting twisting of your trunk.

As such, they strengthen the oblique muscles, which sit on either side of your rectus abdominis.

Some examples of anti-rotation exercises are:

Anti-Lateral Flexion Exercises

The third group of exercises are the anti-lateral flexion movements.

These exercises prevent your body from bending sideways whenever you are carrying an uneven weight. These exercises are essential for teaching lateral body stability that can be applicable to the real world.

Just think about how many times you carry a heavy load on just one side of your body.

Common anti-lateral flexion exercises include:

Anti-Flexion Exercises

The last group of exercises are the anti-flexion exercises. These movements aim to resist flexion or forward bending of the spine. These movements aren’t applicable to calisthenics.

Common anti-flexion exercises include deadlifts, and barbell rows (where you don’t want your spine to bend under heavy loads).


Okay, so now that you know the best way to train your core, let’s go over the best calisthenic ab workout that uses these principles.

The Best Calisthenics Core Workouts

Alright, here are your calisthenic core workouts. There are two separate workouts, each one focusing on the 5 best ab/core exercises you can do.

Each workout should be done at least once per week.

They can be added on to the end of your normal workouts sessions, or done as stand alone sessions.

Lastly, they should take no more than 15 minutes to complete.

Workout 1

ExerciseSetsReps
Plank (Hollow Body) Variation220 seconds
Leg Raise Variation210-12 repetitions
Side Plank Variation2 15 seconds

Workout 2

ExerciseSetsReps
Hollow Body Hold Variation220 seconds
Reverse Crunch Variation210-12 repetitions
L Sit Variation215 seconds

You will notice that this workout can be done regardless of whether you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced athlete.

It all depends on the variation you pick, and would suit your skill level.

Now, let me show you how to do each one of these exercises, along with a few variations to pick the right challenge for you.

The 5 Best Calisthenics Core and Ab Exercises To Include In Your Workout

The five best calisthenic exercises for your core and abs are:

  • The Hollow Body Hold
  • The Hollow Body Plank
  • The L-Sit
  • The Reverse Crunch Progressions
  • The Leg Raise Progressions

Let’s go over each one by one.

#1 The hollow body hold

The first calisthenic core exercise we will talk about is the hollow body hold.

As simple as this exercise may look, it is by far one of the best calisthenic ab exercises you can do. This exercise builds strength, stability, and helps develop total body control.

It is also the best exercise to learn how to perform abdominal hollowing, which is critical for developing calisthenic strength.

This is what it looks like:

  • Make sure to keep your low back completely flat against the floor (do not allow it to arch at all).
  • Also, lift your upper back off the floor slightly to place your abs on tension even further.

All you have to do is hold this position for time.

What Exactly Is abdominal hollowing?

Abdominal hollowing refers to the position you achieve when you posteriorly tilt your pelvis, and you contract your core muscles inward. It essentially causes your back to round as you pull your abs inward.

This is different from stomach vacuuming, where you simply suck your stomach in as much as you can

Instead you are contracting your abs inward. Pretend as if you were preparing for someone to punch you in the stomach.

This hollow body position emphasizes the deep muscles of your abdomen, also known as the transverse abdominis.

How To Make The Hollow Body Hold Easier

If this exercise is too challenging for you, you can make this movement easier by bringing your extremities closer to your center of gravity.

You can bring your arms straight up into the air, rather than holding them above your head.

The remainder of the exercise is the same.

Make sure to keep your low back flat on the floor, and your upper back off the floor.

Alternatively, you can bend your knees up toward your chest.

I’ll show you a picture below.


#2 The Hollow Body Plank (& It’s Progressions)

Planks are underrated.

It is one of the most seemingly-easy to-do exercises, yet so many people do it ineffectively.

Your goal shouldn’t be to hold a plank for 5 minutes. Rather, you should use this powerful exercise to learn how to maintain a neutral spine under varying levels of difficulty.

If done correctly, the plank can

This is what a hollow body plank position should look like.

To do this variation correctly, you need to make sure you are doing three things:

  1. You maintain a hollow body position (core engaged, pelvis posteriorly tilted – NEVER let your low back arch)
  2. You protract your scapula (to engage your serratus anterior)
  3. Your glutes are contracted and activated

How To Make The Hollow Body Plank Easier

To make this movement easier, you can perform the hollow body plank on an incline – such as a bench.

Simply place your forearms on the bench, and extend your legs out behind you.

The remainder of the exercise is the same.

How To Make The Hollow Body Plank More Challenging

If you can hold a plank for more than 30 seconds with the above technique, you can try harder variations. These include.

  • Balance yourself on 3 limbs, then 2
  • Performing a long lever plank where you walk your feet back and have your elbows up by your face
  • Adding weight to your back

#3 The L Sit

The next exercise is the L sit. This calisthenic ab exercise is essential for improving your lower ab strength as well as your hip flexor strength.

This movement builds “compression” strength – which is the ability to bring your legs and torso closer together.

It can be quite challenging at first, especially if you are a beginner. That’s because this movement incorporates a lot of upper body strength as well. You will need to maintain your entire bodyweight while you maintain your scapula depressed and elbows extended.

Holding this movement for 30 seconds with your legs completely straight would be very impressive.

How To Make The L-Sit Easier

If it’s too challenging, there are two things you can do.

1.You can perform them with your hands elevated.

This will allow you to do the movement without having to lift your body as far.

As you get stronger, you can lower the height of the elevation until ultimately you are doing them from the floor.

2. Or you can do seated leg lifts

Seated leg lifts are a great exercise for training the same movement pattern without the use of your upper body.

Here’s what it looks like:

As you get stronger, begin inching your hands down closer to your feet.

The more you can “compress” your abdomen and bring your chest closer to your knees, the more effective the exercise becomes.


#4 Reverse Crunch

You probably are already familiar with the crunch. This exercise, along with the sit-up is controversial as it has been linked to worsening back pain by spine expert Dr. Stuart Mcgill.

I personally never recommend sit-ups or crunches.

Instead, you can do the reverse crunch, which keeps your spine in a more neutral position.

This reverse crunch is performed by lying in a supine position (on your back) and lifting and drawing your legs towards your chest.

To perform the full range of motion, your knees should touch your elbows.

This movement strengthens the rectus abdominis and the deep transverse abdominis muscles.

The beauty of this exercise is that there are several progressions you can do to increase the challenge several-fold. Here’s an entire video showing the different variations you can do.

How To Make The Reverse Crunch Easier

To make the reverse crunch easier, you can simply reduce the range of motion. This is called a lying bent knee raise, which you will see a picture of below.


#5 Hanging Leg Raises

The last exercise is the leg raise. There are a few different ways you can perform this exercise, but the best way to do it is while hanging from a bar.

Not only does this movement strengthen the core, it also improves your flexibility.

The key with this exercise is to try and limit any forward-back swinging and to keep your pelvis in a posteriorly tilted position (the same as you did with the hollow body).

Letting your low back arch can defeat the purpose of the movement.

Here are several hanging leg raise variations you can do based on your skill level.

How To Make The Hanging Leg Raise Easier

The only way to make this movement less challenging is to perform them on a dip station with a back rest. These are those machines that have padding for your forearms and your back.


Bonus Exercise: The Side Plank

I just had to throw a quick bonus exercise into the list – the side plank.

This is by far one of the best exercises for developing tremendous core strength and stabilization. No other exercise targets the obliques better than this movement.

It also helps strengthen and stabilize your shoulder joint.

Here are a few tips to make sure you get the most out of this movement.

  • Keep your feet stacked on top of each other with your hips and knees fully extended
  • Squeeze your glutes and don’t let your trunk bend laterally in any direction (i.e your spine should be neutral)
  • Keep your neck in line with the rest of your body

This exercise can be done on your forearm, on your hand (which is more difficult), or with different types of rotational components to make it difficult.

Here’s a video showing some of the variations I mentioned above.

How To Make The Side Plank Easier

To make the side plank easier, you can do one of three things:

  • You can stagger your stance to make a wider base of support,
  • You can lower your bottom knee to remain in contact with the floor, or
  • You can do the exercise on an incline like shown below.

Alright, so now that you know which exercises are the best of the best – it’s time to start working out.

If you are a beginner, below are some of the variations you can choose from to target these important exercises.

Beginner Calisthenic ab & core exercises (For When You’re Starting Out)

Here is a short list of beginner ab/core calisthenic exercises you can do when you’re first starting out.

Incline Planks

Lying Bent Knee Raises

Hanging Bent Knee Raises

Modified Hollow Body Holds

Advanced Calisthenics ab & core exercises

As you begin to get stronger, you can then work your way up to more advanced / challenging core exercises such as:

  • Hollow Body Holds (holding a weight in your hands)
  • Long Lever Planks
  • Plank Walkouts
  • Toes To Bar
  • Dragon Flags
  • Font lever Raises

Long Lever Planks

Plank Walkouts

Toes To Bar

Dragon Flags

Font lever Raises

Other Related Questions

Is a six-pack possible from calisthenics?

Yes, you can build a six-pack from calisthenics. That’s because almost every calisthenics exercise will train your core if done properly – even push-ups and pull-ups.

A six-pack requires two things:

  1. Hypertrophy of the rectus abdominis (i.e. make them grow), and
  2. Low Body fat percentage

At the end of the day, getting a six-pack depends on several factors such as

  • your initial body weight, and body type
  • your initial body fat levels
  • your diet plan and nutritional intake
  • your consistency in performing exercises

You wont be able to see your six-pack unless you lose enough body fat to make them visible.

Are all ab exercises considered calisthenics?

In general, all traditional ab exercises are calisthenic based as you are using your bodyweight to challenge your midsection.

At the same time, almost all calisthenic bodyweight exercises are core exercises as well.

Can I train abs even with belly fat?

Yes, you can train your abs even if you have belly fat.

In fact, you should train your abs regardless of your body fat levels. You can always strengthen the abdominal muscles underneath the fat to provide stability and balance to your body.

If you couple this with a weight loss nutrition plan, you will lose belly fat while developing your core musculature.

Is it ok to do ab exercise every day?

It is not recommended that you train any body part every day. It is important to give your muscles time to recover from your workouts.

In general, you should rest at least 1-2 days before training a specific muscle group again.

So how often should you exercise my abs?

At least 2 times per week week.

You can experiment with 3-4 x per week, but I personally find twice a week is the sweet spot.

Do you really need to train your abs separately?

If you regularly perform compound exercises that challenge your core, then you will already be getting ab development.

However, if you want maximal development of your abs, then it is necessary to train them separately. Especially the oblique muscles.

Why is ab training important?

Ab training is essential because this is the foundation from where all your strength comes from.

There are many benefits of strengthening your core.

  • A strong core will allow you transfer force and power through your arms and legs while keeping your spine in a neutral position.
  • A strong core is also essential for spinal health. It will help you maintain your posture and avoid low back pain.

Get a complete Calisthenic Workout Training Template For Free

Enter your email below and I’ll send you a “fill in the blank” workout template for both upper and lower body calisthenics workouts.

The WCT Calisthenics Workout Tempates

Included you will recieve two different templates
A 4 Day/Week Upper Lower Workout Template
A 3 Day/Week Push Pull Legs Template
DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE TEMPLATES TODAY

Final Words On Calisthenic Ab Training

So there you have it. Two simple core workouts that you can adapt to your training routine.

Now I want to hear from you.

Which movement do you want to improve first?

Any exercises I leave out?

Comment below and let us know!

Other Amazing Calisthenics Exercises & Workouts

Get Started With Four Free Tried and Tested Beginner Workouts That Only Take 30 Minutes A Day!

Sharing is caring!

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM CPTs, health & fitness experts, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a site dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals. Their advice has been featured on KevinMD, The Doctor Weighs In, My Fitness Pal, Reader's Digest, Livestrong, and The Active Times. Learn more about them here.

Learn More About Them Here

2 thoughts on “The Most Effective Calisthenics Workout For Abs [Just 15 Min]”

  1. Can doing specifically planks lead to costochronditiis? Or like anything else, injury happens with poor form? And if so, what would poor form be when performing a plank that could lead to this condition?

    1. thewhitecoattrainer

      Hi Cee,

      I dont think that planks would cause costochondritis. Unfortunately, that condition is very poorly understood in the field of medicine. The stress of the plank should primarily be felt in the abdomen, and it shouldnt place stress in your chest area.

      Poor form primarily results form you not maintaining a neutral spinal position. Any extension/arching of the low back constitutes poor, and this could lead to low back issues.

Comments are closed.

Need A Simple Workout Program That Only Takes 30 Minutes?

Download A FREE Copy Of The WCT Workout Template To...

Get a complete list of which exercises you should do and how to do them to get the best science-based results. (Especially if you don't have a lot of time to exercise.)
SEND ME THE TEMPLATE NOW

A Comprehensive Full Body Workout To Build Muscle & Burn Fat (In just 30 minutes a day)

Download this valuable FREE template that goes over the best exercises to do to and how to do them to get the best science-based results (especially if you don't have a lot of time to exercise.)
Send Me The Template Now

The WCT Calisthenics Workout Tempates

Included you will recieve two different templates
A 4 Day/Week Upper Lower Workout Template
A 3 Day/Week Push Pull Legs Template
DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE TEMPLATES TODAY
wct-3-day-email-mock-up

Learn 3 Incredibly Simple Strategies That You Can Use Right Now To Eat Healthier & Lose Weight

These are the same strategies we use every day despite working 80+ hours a week!
Start Lesson 1
Note: When you click the button, you will be joining The White Coat Trainer email list. You may unsubscribe at any time

Don't Know What To Eat?

Download this valuable FREE Table that goes over the best foods from each category (so that you no longer need to guess which foods are healthy and which one's arent)
YES- SEND ME THE TEMPLATE NOW

The WCT's Best Compound Exercises E-Book

Download this valuable FREE E-Book that goes over the best compound exercises for each body part (so that you stop wasting your time doing mediocre exercises)
YES- SEND ME THE TEMPLATE NOW

Want To Build Muscle & Gain Strength But You Don't Know How To Get Started?

Download this valuable FREE 10 Step Checklist that goes over the exact step-by-step formula that ensures your workouts are optimized for results!
YES- SEND ME THE CHECKLIST NOW!

Want To Build Muscle & Gain Strength But You Don't Know How To Get Started?

Get 4 Free Full-Body Workouts plus a 10 Step Checklist that goes over the exact step-by-step formula that ensures your workouts are optimized for results!
YES- SEND ME THE  PDF NOW

4 Full Body Workouts To Build Muscle & Burn Fat (In Just 30 Minutes A Day!)

Download this valuable FREE PDF that goes over the best exercises to do to + the top 10 mistakes you need to avoid in order to get the best science-based results!
SEND ME THE  WORKOUTS NOW

Wait...Don't Forget Your Free Workout Template!

Download Now