Cut to the Core

by Eric Buratty on September 1, 2015

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Al Kavadlo Front Lever

It’s tempting to use the terms “core” and “abdominal” muscles interchangeably.

After all, having visible abs and sub-seven percent body fat gives us an automatic pass to forget training our core, right?

Not exactly.

You see, the truth is that the abdominal muscles are just a part of our core.


Because BROscience. And because I said so.

All joking aside, our entire core includes our upper back muscles, our lower back muscles, our psoas muscle and then our abdominal muscles.

That last area becomes especially important for earning our “beach body” card.

However, without a strong core, our “beach body” muscles are just there for show.

The good news is that Progressive Calisthenics happens to be the perfect way to wake these muscles up—even when they’re hidden beneath layers of fat.

What about abs being made in the kitchen (not the gym)? Yeah, yeah . . . we’ve all heard that one before.

We could just as easily counter that question with: What foods STRENGTHEN the core musculature?

So, instead of wasting time on semantics and dogmatic fitness debates, let’s cut to the core with more important matters.

Like WHEN and HOW to train the core for best results.

Who’s with me?

Al Kavadlo Beach Back Lever

WHEN to Train the Core

Ideally, we’ll train the core first thing during our workouts whenever we are:

  1. Making a comeback from a sports injury
  2. Combating some form of lagging or acute inflammation around a joint/tendon so that it doesn’t turn into chronic inflammation (i.e., performing an active recovery workout in place of a regular workout)
  3. Not feeling a solid muscle contraction where we need to on a given movement—which could lead to acute and/or chronic inflammation

Whenever we are feeling closer to 100 percent and beyond, we’ll train our core after emphasizing our lower body muscles.
This is because, when we target our largest muscles first, we elicit a favorable hormonal response that translates into greater energy expenditure from our core musculature.

What if we’re emphasizing our upper body muscles during our main workout?

Well, it’s still recommended to superset some lower body plyometrics and core moves during our warm-up to help get us get in the zone.

We could also consider throwing in some core moves as bonus work if we accomplish our desired training effect earlier than expected for a given workout day.

Just ‘cause, you know, that playing around stuff is good for us every so often.

HOW to Activate the Core

Now that we’re all on the same page with when we should train our core, I’m sure you’re dying to know how you can start applying this info . . . like yesterday.

Kavadlo Brothers Two Flags

In this capacity, here are some drills to help you feel what it’s like to activate the entire core musculature.
These are ordered from least to most challenging and should be practiced as such.

  1. Hollow Rock (Floor)
  2. Hollow/Reverse Hollow Sideways Roll (Floor)
  3. Reverse Hollow (Superman) Rock (Floor)
  4. Hollow/Reverse Hollow Swing (Start/Stop – Hanging)
  5. Sideways Hollow Swing (Start/Stop – Hanging)

Here’s what these moves look like in action in case you’re unfamiliar with the naming system I’ve used for them.

While it’s not necessary to structure your practice too much with these moves, it is recommended to just pick one or two at a time, and really focus on accentuating total body tension with them.

Implication or Application – You Decide!

As you’ll see and feel over time, a stronger core allows you to progress toward more advanced skills without fear of injury.

In particular, the similarities between the positions and transitions of these moves and those of front levers, kipping muscle-ups, and human (press) flags should be fairly noticeable.

Defying gravity rules!

Adrienne progression towards the human flag

Senior PCC, Adrienne Harvey working towards the full press flag with Step #6 Split Press Flag from Convict Conditioning Vol. 2

Now that you have further knowledge and tools to help you cut to the core, hopefully you will either imply other intelligent questions from this info, or apply greater integrity when using these muscles, moving forward.

In other words, knowledge is power, and the choice is yours in how you use it!


Eric Buratty brings six years of experience to the DC Metro Area as a Certified Personal Trainer, Progressive Calisthenics Instructor, Nutrition Consultant and Sports Injury Specialist. For more information about Eric check out his website,

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  • Brendan McCormack

    Right on Eric! This post is spot on and well written. Not only do you go into some of the rehab and prehab inherent in calisthenics, but you help go beyond that and show us how to get going on real core training.

    There are tons of “ab training” videos involving calisthenics but most of them either involve useless movements like crunches or skip the beginning and start out with some of the more difficult versions of hanging levers.

    I’m excited to throw some extra core exercises in today!

    • Eric Buratty

      Thanks for the positive feedback, Brendan.

      Have fun! 🙂

  • Cool stuff Eric! I’m glad to see you include that rolling in core training, it’s such a simple (and fun thing) that I think most adults forget about entirely. And thanks for including me as well! 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Eric Buratty

      Thank you, Adrienne.

      I agree–the rolling is way underutilized in our fitness industry that places heavy emphasis on planks!

      Keep rockin’ and rollin!’ 🙂

  • Matt Schifferle

    Great stuff here Eric, completely agree with you on the whole “abs are made in the kitchen” thing. My old joke was when someone told me that abs are made in the kitchen was to reply with the question; is that what the shred button on my blender is for?

    Thanks so much and good luck in DC!

    • Eric Buratty

      Hahaha a blender with a shred button would totally give the Ninja some competition!

      I wish you the best with your training as well.

  • isondart

    Great article Eric, thanks for sharing!
    I will incorporate these moves into my CORE workout program. It gives me lots of challenging exercises inbetween hanging leg raises (which i do regularly) and the clutch flag (sigh).

    • Eric Buratty

      You know it!

      Thank YOU for realizing the value of true CORE training.

      Best Regards 🙂

  • pixelzombie

    Very cool information. I want to work on flags sometime soon and looks like a good start, thanks so much.

    • Eric Buratty

      You betcha!

      I wish you the best on your journey to full press flags.

  • Jens DreamsabovetheBar Nielsen

    Best core post ever! Really like these basic movements to really involve and activate your core. Thanks for the great strengthening post (y)

    • Eric Buratty

      Thank you–glad you enjoyed the post!

      Best Regards to you and your health & fitness journey 🙂

  • Thought provoking for sure Eric. I tried some of the hanging swings yesterday & found them valuable. Thanks!

    • Eric Buratty

      Good stuff, Dan!

      Yes–being able to control the momentum from swinging around will take your core strength to a whole new level. It teaches the mind/body how to safely return to equilibrium whenever you get out of that “perfect alignment” that so many health & fitness experts emphasize.

      Take care and thanks for your positive feedback!

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