Strengthen your abdominal and lower-back muscles anywhere with these essential bodyweight moves.
All you need for these 7 bodyweight core exercises is some space, a few minutes, and a motivated attitude—no suspension trainers, stability balls, ab wheels, or dumbbells necessary. The one apparatus you might want on hand is a foam mat to protect your lower back from whatever firm surface you’ll be doing these exercises on.
Ab exercises can improve your posture, reduce and prevent lower-back pain, and advance your athletic performance. With enough reps and a good meal plan, these exercises might even trim up your waist a bit more.
I love the muscle building potential of bodyweight training. However, my favorite calisthenics exercises are the ones that allow you to work on improving your range of motion and body awareness, while building strength at the same time. Most strength coaches would list pull-ups and push-ups among their top exercises, regardless of whether or not they specialize in bodyweight training.
The most underrated bodyweight exercises you’re not doing:
Hollow-hold and cross-crunch
Single-leg handstand hop
Roll to bear
V-up rope climb
V-sit with shoulder circles
Crab ankle touches
You Need Variety
The best way to describe how to train for a Spartan race is to say that you’re improving your body’s ability to move through space. Most people will tell you to do burpees, pull-ups, and running, but there are so many more underrated bodyweight exercises than those simple, often overdone exercises.
Those three things matter, but so does introducing unique exercises into your routine. A general mantra that this coach shares is, “If it looks weird, it works.” Four or five years ago, the average gym goer would see people doing silly things like carrying sandbags during incline treadmill walks or doing 100-yard bear crawls and think they’re crazy. Nowadays, the average gym goer has either tried an obstacle course race, has heard of one.
Master Your Body Weight
1. Hollow Hold and Cross Crunch
How to Do It: Lie on your back with legs straight and arms extended reaching toward the ceiling. Your shoulders and head should be off the ground with arms reaching vertically while the bottoms of your heels are touching the ground with your legs straight. This is the starting position. Bend your right elbow and left knee and bring them together across your body, above your torso. Once you’ve tapped your right elbow to your knee, return to the starting position. Now, bend your left elbow to your right knee, tapping the elbow to the knee. Return to the starting position. That’s one rep each side. Do two or three sets of 10 reps each side.
Trainer Tip: To increase the difficulty, keep your heels off the ground the entire time. Remember to keep your shoulders off the ground too, continuously reaching toward the ceiling once you’re done with the twists.
2. Single-Leg Handstand Hop
How to Do It: Stand tall with your feet hip width apart and your right heel one to two feet ahead of your left toes. This is the starting position for the right side. Push your hips backward, lower yourself toward the ground, and place both palms on the ground so your left hand is on the left side your right foot and the right hand is on the right side of the right foot. Your right foot is between your hands. As you’re lowering yourself into this position, raise your left leg into the air. Once you’ve touched the ground, return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Do 10 reps on the right then switch sides by starting with the left foot ahead of the right foot and framing the left foot with the hands.
Trainer Tip: Come down toward the ground with a straight back—don’t just bend over or fold forward. To increase the difficulty, do a small hop off the ground with the standing leg (the one between your hands), then return to the starting position.
3. Roll to Bear
How to Do It: Get into a tabletop or quadruped position with your palms and knees on the ground. Raise your knees two to three inches off the ground. This is the starting position. Keeping your hips off the ground, roll toward the right by opening your left hip, removing your left hand from the ground, and traveling your hips in a circle until you’re back in the starting position. Now, roll toward the left side by opening your right side, taking the right hand off the ground and making a hip circle to end up in the starting position. That’s one rep each side. Set a timer for 30–40 seconds and do as many reps as possible for three rounds.
Trainer Tip: Keep your knees off the ground the entire time. Also, try to stay in a tight ball when you rotate your body side to side. You don’t want to be creating distance between your arms when rolling from side to side.
4. V-Up Rope Climb
How to Do It: Lie on your back with both arms extended toward the ceiling. This is the starting position. Pretend you’re climbing an imaginary rope with your hands and work your hands up toward the ceiling. As you do this, your back will come off the ground. When you’ve reached peak height, stand up straight. Then, return back to the ground in the starting position. That’s one rep. Do two or three sets of 10 “climbs.”
Trainer Tip: Think about engaging your core before you start the imaginary climb. A modification for this move would be to not stand up after the climb, just bring the torso toward the ceiling then return to a supine position.
5. V-Sit with Shoulder Circles
How to Do It: Sit on the ground with knees bent, torso slightly bent back, and the bottoms of your heels on the ground. Your feet aren’t flat on the ground; the soles are perpendicular to the ground. Reach both hands toward the ceiling but point toward the ceiling with your index fingers. This is the starting position. Slowly rotate your shoulders clockwise in a small circle as you continue to reach toward the ceiling. Repeatedly make mini circles with your arms straight and fingers pointed above. Do 30 seconds clockwise, then switch directions and rotate your shoulders in small circles counterclockwise for 30 seconds. Do three rounds of 30 seconds each direction.
Trainer Tip: Keep trying to shrug the shoulders vertically, as they may naturally start to come down. Maintain the slight backward lean as it may seem natural to sit upright.
6. Dolphin Triceps Extension
How to Do It: Get into a downward dog position where you’re bent over with your legs straight and your palms on the ground. Your back should form an upward curve and your head should hang down between your shoulders, looking between your legs. This is the starting position. From here, release both elbows toward the ground and touch the floor with your forearms. Now push yourself back into the downward dog position so your forearms are off the ground. That’s one rep. Do two or three sets of 12–15 reps.
Trainer Tip: A modification for this move is to lower and raise yourself off the ground using one arm at a time instead of two. Your heels don’t have to be on the ground; just the toes are OK. If your heels are on the ground the entire time, then you’re pretty flexible.
7. Crab Ankle Touches
How to Do It: Assume a reverse plank position with your feet flat on the ground, torso and pelvis facing the ceiling, and your palms on the ground behind your back. Your hips should be off the ground. This is the starting position. Raise your left leg and touch your right hand to your left toes in front of you. Return to the starting position. Touch your left hand to the right toes. Return to the starting position. That’s one rep each side. Do two to three sets of 10 reps each side.
Trainer Tip: Don’t let your hips sag down too much. They may dip a bit below your torso, but actively try to keep them high as you alternate your ankle touches. A modification here would be to just hold the crab position and not do the ankle taps.