Calisthenics Ab Workout for Hard & Lean Abs and a Strong Core

calisthenics-ab-workout

Are you looking for a quick and effective calisthenics ab workout to build those midsection muscles, get stronger, and improve your functional fitness?

If so, read on because we’ll break down some of the best exercises and some simple ways to organize them into effective workouts.

Table of Contents

Main Takeaways

  • Ab workouts can be done without equipment, but if you have a pull-up bar, you will have more variety with your ab workout.

  • Remember that abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym. You need to be at 10-12% body fat for abs to shine.

  • Treat your abs like any other muscle, and apply progressive overload. This can be done by adding weights, reps, sets, or adding time to the eccentric part of the movement.

Muscles Worked

Primary Muscles Worked 💪

  • Abs
  • Transverse Abs
  • Obliques
  • Erector Spinae (back muscle extending your trunk)
  • Core

Secondary Muscles Worked 💪

  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Hip Flexors
  • Hip Abductors

A Few Words on Getting Ripped Abs

Have you ever looked at a calisthenics athlete and wondered how they’ve achieved a chiseled midsection with deep lines separating the individual muscles––the abs, obliques, etc.?

That mostly comes down to controlling the body fat percentage, which comes from a calorie-controlled diet.

Men typically see a good outline of their abs at 12% body fat, whereas women can get a lean midsection at around 20-22%. (1)

That said, the abs and other midsection muscles benefit from direct stimulation (e.g., core exercises) like any other muscles you train: the lats, chest, biceps, quadriceps, and more.

So, let’s look at some calisthenics ab workout options to build the core musculature.

6 Fantastic Calisthenics Ab Exercises

1. Hollow Hold

A fantastic isometric exercise that builds up the midsection, develops your abs, and improves whole-body stability.

How to:

  1. Lie on an exercise mat.
  2. Extend your arms overhead and bring your feet together.
  3. Inhale and squeeze your abs to get your lower back in contact with the floor.
  4. Raise your feet and arms a couple of inches off the floor and hold the position.

Hollow Hold

2. Hanging Leg Raises

An effective exercise that targets the abs and develops your grip strength.

How to:

  1. Reach up and grab a pull-up bar.
  2. Inhale and squeeze your abs.
  3. Raise your legs until they are parallel to the floor.
  4. Lower your legs slowly, being mindful not to arch your lower back. Exhale.

Hanging Leg Raise

3. High Plank

A classic exercise that trains the whole body and strengthens your abs when done correctly.

How to:

  1. Get down on the floor and extend your body into a high plank with your arms and legs straight.
  2. Inhale and engage your abs, drawing your belly button toward your spine. Your lower back should be rounded to some degree instead of arched.
  3. Hold the position, making sure most of the tension is localized in your abs.

High Plank

4. V-Ups

This more advanced movement trains your upper and lower abs because the objective is to raise your torso and lower body simultaneously. When seen from the side, your body resembles a V letter, hence the movement’s name.

How to:

  1. Lie on the floor with your arms extended, legs straight, and feet together.
  2. Take a deep breath and engage your abs to bring your lower back in contact with the floor.
  3. Raise your upper back and feet a couple of inches off the floor.
  4. Inhale again and raise your torso and legs toward each other, folding your body in half.
  5. Slowly extend your body without resting your feet or upper back on the floor. Exhale.

V-ups Bodyweight Workout

5. Sit Ups

Sit ups are a classic movement that fits into any calisthenics ab workout because it works for all levels and does a fantastic job of developing the rectus abdominis. (2)

How to:

  1. Lie on the floor, bend your knees, and place your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Bring your hands to the sides of your head and engage your abs to position your lower back against the floor.
  3. Inhale and raise your torso.
  4. Slowly lower your upper body to the floor as you exhale. Make sure your lower back remains rounded and doesn’t arch.

Sit ups

6. Windshield Wipers

Windshield wipers is a calisthenics exercise that develops the abs and obliques (the muscles running on both sides of the abs).

How to:

  1. Lie on the floor, extend your arms, and position them to your sides.
  2. Engage your abs, bend your knees, and position them above your hips.
  3. Inhale and twist your lower body to one side, keeping tension on the abs.
  4. Pause briefly and twist your legs to the opposite side as you exhale.
  5. Continue twisting to the left and right.

Windshield Wipers

3 Calisthenics Ab Workouts

Beginner

ExerciseSetsRepsRest (mins)
Hanging leg raise*312-151.5
Sit ups315-201.5

*If leg raises feel too challenging, perform them with your knees bent.

Intermediate

ExerciseSetsRepsRest (mins)
Hanging leg raise310-151.5
V-ups310-151.5
Hollow hold*3-1

*Hold for as long as possible.

Advanced

ExerciseSetsRepsRest (mins)
Hanging leg raise*315-201.5
V-ups315-201.5
High plank**3-1.5
High plank**3-1.5
Windshield wipers330-40 (total)1

*Do reps slowly and raise your legs as much as possible.

**Hold the position for as long as possible.

The Power of Calisthenics

Many people think you need to have a gym membership in order to get fit. This is absolutely not true. Calisthenics workouts are some of the best exercises that you can do to get in top shape.

You can work every muscle group with a strong variety of calisthenics exercises. This includes your core, upper body, lower body, and all muscle groups. And calisthenics are great to increase your strength as you get more fit.

Because they include some cardio in each exercise, they are also really helpful to get lean and reduce body fat. We did tons of calisthenics and similar exercises in the US Army, and these type of exercises were the foundation of our daily workouts.

No Gym? No Problem

Many times we would be in the field and nowhere close to a gym, so calisthenics was our go-to. So whether it’s crunches on the ground, or hanging from a pull up bar for variety, these exercises are powerhouse and will get you fit.

And not only your core but your entire body. And you don’t need to do them every day. Doing resistance training two or three times a week is sufficient for most people to get lean and fit.

At A Lean Life, we are big proponents of daily cardio because that is the biggest obstacle that most people face in getting lean. In western countries (including the United States), a full 70% of adults are overweight or obese. This is a staggering statistic.

And it gets worse each and every decade. So performing these exercises, along with frequent cardio, is a great recipe for getting in top shape. And of course diet is a huge part of the equation, so watch your calories and eat lean.

Reducing Calories Can Be a Challenge

If you’re looking to reduce your calorie intake to lose some extra fat, you might consider a meal replacement shake. These shakes are a great way to get a very healthy dose of nutrition, but at a lower clip of calories. LYFE Fuel is a top brand in the meal shake market, and they are as wholesome as it gets in terms of clean nutrition. Check our complete review below of this up and coming brand.

LYFE Fuel Honest Review

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Too many variations and don’t know what to add to your routine? Click here to learn more about the best ab exercises. We also have ab workouts at home for times when you can’t go to your gym. 

New to calisthenics and don’t know what to do? Check out beginner bodyweight workouts to learn more. Are you an intermediate but still on the lookout for a perfect workout routine? Check our calisthenics workout to build a lean and muscular physique. 

Here are some more bodyweight exercises:

Click for more content on how to build lean muscle

Philip Stefanov

Philip Stefanov

Philip is a fitness writer, blogger, certified personal trainer, and the founder of ThinkingLifter.com. He trained at BioFit College, and has spent the last nine years writing fitness content and training men and women in the gym, as well as online. His passion is fitness and exercise, and helping others improve their fitness and wellness.

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References

1) Lindberg, S. (2018, September 27). Body fat percentage for Abs: What’s the magic number? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/body-fat-percentage-for-abs

2) Neudecker, K. (2023, March 15). How to Do Sit-Ups with Perfect Technique to Torch Your Core. Men’s Health. https://www.menshealth.com/uk/how-tos/a735506/sit-up/

Click to see our medical disclosure.