Calisthenics is one of the best ways to build a strong and sexy stomach.
Bodyweight exercises naturally lend themselves to creating a firm and stable core as you’re constantly engaging them to hold your body firm and straight throughout many of the movements.
Below I’ve put together some of the best calisthenics exercises for building strong abs and I’ve placed them in a progressive order starting with the easiest and ending with the most extreme.
But first I want to talk about why it’s important to train your stomach muscles in the first place.
What is the Purpose of Your Abdominal Muscles and Why it’s Important to Train Them
Your abdominals make up a network of stomach muscles that provide protection to your internal organs and support your body throughout many different movements.
They run from your ribcage down into your hips and also wrap horizontally around the sides of your body to form your obliques.
Having strong abdominal muscles not only makes you look good but also helps to prevent injury and make you even stronger when performing other exercises.
The reason for this is that your core’s primary function during most movements is to simply stay straight and protect the spine from injury while also safely transferring energy from one part of your body to another.
When your stomach and core muscles are strong they can properly hold the center of your body in a firm plank position throughout any kind of lift or athletic movement.
This in turn does two things:
1) It prevents injury to your back and sends a strong signal to your brain and muscles that it’s safe to fully apply oneself to the movement because spinal cord is braced and protected.
2) It prevents any leak of energy from occurring in your mid-section from “wiggling” during an exercise. Have you ever seen someone doing push ups whose hips or torso seemed to be all over the place? That would be an example of a loss of force caused by a weak core.
Even though your stomach muscles are naturally strengthened by many exercises, if done with proper form, it’s still a good idea to independently work your abdominal muscles too.
By doing so you’ll not only have a sexier looking mid-section but you’ll have more strength and confidence when doing other exercises.
So, without further ado, here are nine of the best bodyweight exercises you can do to build a strong stomach:
1) Front Plank
The front plank is a foundational exercise for building a strong core.
It teaches you how to properly stabilize your mid-section when under stress which is exactly what it was designed to do.
To do it you want to lie down on the floor as if you were getting ready to do a push up but with your elbows on the ground instead of your hands.
Then you want to brace your stomach muscles so that you are forming a straight line with your back and whole body.
The most important part of this exercise is maintaining tension throughout your entire body; not just your stomach.
To do it properly you really want to flex all of your muscles as if you were expecting someone to walk over and kick you in the side any second.
If you really focus on maintaining this tension throughout your body then the plank can be an awesome exercise for working all of your stomach muscles.
2) Side Plank
The side plank is similar to the front plank except for one thing; you’re going to be on your side as in the picture above.
This will force your obliques, the muscles on the side of your stomach, to work harder than in a normal front facing plank and is a great way to round out your plank practice.
Just remember to maintain that tension throughout your body just as you would in a front plank.
3) Leg Raises
Leg raises are similar to a sit up except that instead of raising your torso up you’re going to be lifting your legs up.
This makes them a little easier to do if you don’t have anything to keep your feet planted on the floor and they keep moving up when you try to do sit ups.
Leg raises work your abs but actually use your hip flexors more.
Because of this they’ve gotten kind of a bad rap over the past few years since they don’t focus entirely on building your stomach but the truth is that the basic motion of hinging at your hips is a very fundamental movement and any exercise which trains it safely is good for most people.
To do it you just want to lie down on your back and lift your legs up until they are perpendicular to the floor.
Then lower them back down again.
If you want to make it a little harder you can just not allow your legs or feet to touch the floor when you go back down. Instead, pause for a second with your heels a couple of inches from the floor before raising your legs back up again.
But, if you want to make it a little easier, just bend your legs at the knee a little to lessen the weight that your stomach has to lift.
4) Hanging Knee Raises
In order to do the next few exercises you’re going to need a pull up bar or at least something you can hang on to that is sturdy.
To do hanging knee raises you want to grip the bar above you so that you’re hanging loosely from it with your arms up above you.
Next you want to bend your legs and bring your knees up so that your upper thighs are at least parallel with the floor or even higher.
This is a great way to work your abs and once you’re up to it you can move on to the harder version below:
5) Hanging Straight Leg Raises
For this exercise you’re going to grip the bar above you and let yourself hang beneath it with your arms over your head.
Then, with your legs still straight, you’re going to bend at your hips so that your legs are sticking straight out in front of you perpendicular to the ground.
Basically you’ll look like you’re making a capital “L” with your body and after a few sets you’re abs will really be feeling it.
6) Hanging Straight Legs to Bar
This exercise is similar to the two above except you’re going to put your abdominals through a full range of motion.
Again, you’re going to grip the pull up bar above you so that you’re hanging beneath it with your arms overhead.
Then, while keeping your legs straight, you’re going to lift your feet out in front of you but instead of stopping half way you’re going to lift them all of the way up so that your toes are touching the bar above you.
This will give your abs a serious workout.
The key to really getting this exercise right is not to swing at all while doing the movement.
It’s easy after bringing your legs down to use the momentum to help you swing them back up to the bar again like a pendulum but you have to resist the urge.
If you feel yourself starting to swing you’re making the exercise much easier and killing a lot of the benefits for your stomach muscles.
7) Hanging Windshield Wipers
In order to do windshield wipers you first have to be able to lift your feet all the way up to the bar above you.
Once you do that you want to keep your feet raised above you with your legs straight but then instead of coming back down again you’re going to start moving your feet from right to left; just like the windshield wipers on a car.
This is an awesome way to work your obliques; the muscles on the sides of your stomach.
Make sure to work this exercise into your routine once you can get your toes up to the bar without swinging.
8) L- Sits
L- sits are an awesome exercise that give your abs a serious workout.
They’re a type of static hold that can be done either on the floor or using a set of parallel bars to hold onto.
As the name implies you want to make your body into a capital “L” shape with your torso perpendicular to the floor and your legs out in front of you parallel to the floor.
The easiest way to do this is with a parallel dip bar.
Start by suspending yourself as if you’re about to do a dip but then bring your legs straight up in front of you instead.
See how long you can hold it and you’ll be surprised how much of a workout your whole body will get.
Also, if you really want a challenge, you can try using a set of gymnastic rings instead of the dip bars.
9) Dragon Flags
Dragon flags are not only a really cool display of strength but an awesome way to work out all of your stomach muscles.
The easier version, if you want to call it that, is done by lying down on a bench with your face up and a sturdy pole next to your shoulder.
Next, you want to lift the lower three-quarters of your body up in a straight line off of the bench with only your shoulder blades still touching using the pole behind you for balance.
The advanced version of this exercise simply removes the bench.
Here’s a great demonstration below:
There are nine awesome ways to work your abs using only your own bodyweight.
I hope you liked the list and that you were able to get something new to put into your routine.
Let me know if I missed any that you think I should add in the comments below.