Training Without a Gym – The Core
If rows and push-ups aren’t enough to satisfy your need for an iron core, or if your name is Mr. Lee or Mr. Balboa and you want a torso made of rough iron rather than mushy muscle, then you need to make sure the core is a heavy focus in your training program. In general movement, the core is indeed incredibly important. Aside from being a major stabilization muscle group, the core is also directly involved in hinge movements. The hinge is basically you bending forward while keeping your spine straight. It requires a little flexibility on your part, but a lot of strength when doing things like leg raises or Good Mornings. Finally, despite a common misconception, the core isn’t just your abdominal muscle group — it also involves your “side body” (the obliques) and, very importantly, your lower back protecting the lumbar region.
Note: Here’s the spreadsheet version, without explanations.
The hinge movement involves you basically folding between your legs and torso, with both the legs and torso kept straight. This is critical for core strength — but I’m also including the dragon flag here as a measure of general core strength and as a “final progression”.
Leg Raise: Leg raises are your standard range-of-motion core exercise, more so even than a crunch or a sit-up. Lie down on the floor, keep your arms to your side, and raise your legs until they are almost entirely perpendicular to the floor (you want to keep tension in the core, so don’t raise them quite that high). Lower them back down without touching the ground. Rinse, and repeat.
Hanging Knee Raise: Once you feel like floor leg raises are for plebs, it’s time to move onto knee raises. They’re very simple — get yourself into a dead hang, and start doing knee raises. Up, down. Up, down.
Hanging Leg Raise: Like the knee raises, start in a dead hang and then, with your legs straight, raise them until your toes touch the bar.
Tucked Dragon Flag: Start by lying on a bench, with your hands gripping the bench behind your shoulders. Then, get your knees to your chest. Finally, using your shoulders as a fulcrum, raise your body up into a candle position, and back down. Once you’re comfortable doing this at a tucked level, move on to doing it with your knees and torso at a 90-degree angle. Finally, do it with a single leg out.
Negative Dragon Flag: Once single leg dragon flags are possible, move onto negatives. Start in a candle position, and lower down until your body is nearly parallel with the floor, without letting it actually sink onto the bench — then drop entirely. Repeat until you can get back into the candle from a parallel position.
Dragon Flag: Legendary for both its awesome name and awesome requirements, the dragon flag involves you basically turning into a human lever from a lying position into an upright candle. For a proper dragon flag, refer to Rocky. This isn’t the final form of ab-solute awesomeness, though, as we still have the human flag, front lever and back lever to go through. I’ll write about those in a separate post, though. Note: when doing these, the point is to keep the pressure on your shoulders. Don’t do them with the pressure being on your neck. That’s how you get injuries. Bad, bad, bad injuries.
While hinging is critical when working the abs, your core is composed of more than just a six pack and lumbar musculature. You also have the obliques and a string of other muscles that keep your waist strong and help your body twist at the hips. At the gym, there are several ways to do this. You can do barbell twists, which really help you strengthen and stabilize your trunk. You can also use twisting machines, which let you basically twist against machinery resistance.
But when at home with little else but your floor and a ledge/bar, your options are slightly more limited. Instead of relying on machines, all these exercises are with minimal or no equipment — and they’ll totally slaughter your sides.
Lying Leg Twist: This is the first level exercise, and it’s pretty simple — lie flat on your back as per the lying leg raises, and start with your legs pointed up into the air. Then, using your arms to keep your torso flat, slowly lower your legs to one side — without letting them touch the ground. Come back to your starting position, and repeat on the other side. Think of yourself as a human metronome.
Russian Twist: To start a Russian twist, get into a crunch position with your feet off the floor — in yoga, this would be called the boat pose. From there, twist your torso to one side, and then the other. For extra difficulty points, get yourself something slightly heavy and compact to hold onto — a bag would work.
Tucked Windshield Wiper: Once these twists feel too easy for you, move onto the next step — bar training. First, start in a hanging position, then raise your legs until you’re in a tucked front lever position. From there, twist your legs to one side, then the other — like a windshield wiper or a metronome, but with your legs tucked.
Windshield Wiper: The final step to proper twist training is the windshield wiper — instead of having your legs tucked, keep them entirely extended and draw full 180s with your legs. If you can do this effortlessly, you basically have a monster core.
Human Flag: The next step is to work on your human flag — the final oblique training exercise. After sufficient windshield wipers, you’ll be strong enough to attempt this legendary exercise, which basically involves attaching yourself to a pole like so.
And that’s that! These core exercises range from really easy to extremely difficult — and this list is meant to ensure that you never need to do another crunch or sit-up in your entire life. That’s right — no crunches, no situps. Just hinge and twist exercises.