What do you think of when you hear the words ‘strong core’? Like most people, you’re probably picturing a half-naked fitness model with a chiselled, well-defined six-pack performing hundreds of crunches. Sure, they might have a strong core, but contrary to popular belief, ab definition doesn’t correlate with core strength. Yet strong abdominals really help with CrossFit gymnastic movements and weightlifting.
So do CrossFit workouts target the abs? Do you need strong abs to participate in the Workout Of The Day (WOD)? And what are some CrossFit workouts that will get your abs ripped and bulletproof strong? Let’s take a look.
Anatomy of the Core
Let’s dive into a bit of an anatomy lesson. Core muscles help move, support, and stabilise your spine. Of the many muscle groups in the core, the most well known is the rectus abdominals, also known as the abs. They are the most exterior core muscle, the closest to your skin. With low enough body fat your abs will show, regardless of whether your core is strong or weak.
The other muscles are harder to see as they are located around your back, sides and deep within your centre, appropriately named the core. You can’t see them but they are very important. In fact, the muscles you can’t see are more important than the abs, or mirror muscles as we call them.
Benefits of a Strong Core for CrossFit
The core muscles work together to provide stability and force production, two key components of CrossFit. Your coach might yell “stay tight” or “engage your core” while you run through exercises and movements. There's a good reason for this; they’re not just being picky). Engaging your core forces your pelvis and spine into optimal biomechanical alignment. Keeping a tight core during various movements allows your body to efficiently transfer force, allowing for improved movement and performance.
Think of force transfer as a three linked chain. Each chain represents your lower body, core, and upper body. When one link moves, the generated momentum causes the others to move. If the middle link (your core) breaks (loses tension), the other two links don’t move. Transfer that over to CrossFit and we can see how important our core really is.
Engaging your core forces your pelvis and spine into optimal biomechanical alignment
During a clean, we rely on the power generated in our legs to help pull the bar high enough for us to drop under. Or when performing kipping pull ups we use our lower body to help pull our chins over the bar. Without a tight core, neither of these movements would benefit from the momentum generated from our lower body. We keep the links connected by maintaining optimal alignment.
Connected links will help us lift heavier, move faster, and work longer. Tell that to any athlete, and they’ll probably think you’re talking about a new performance enhancing drug. That’s how powerful a strong core can be.
Building a Strong Core
So what does it take to build a strong core? Sorry, crunches and a few leg raises won’t cut it. While these exercises have their place, they focus on moving the core. As we’ve discussed, the primary function of the core is to provide stability. Therefore, it would make much more sense to focus on static core exercises. They build more core stability, and reduce the risk of injury. While we should focus on static exercises, dynamic flexion and extension exercises should not be totally neglected. In CrossFit, some exercises require movement in the trunk in, for example, toes to bar.
In the CrossFit community, discussions about pure core training have traditionally been avoided. During the early days of the sport, athletes typically trained their core purely through compound movements such as the deadlift and squat.
Of course, there’s no denying that squat and deadlift work your core, but the supporting muscles are not the main target area. Performing specific core exercises provides great physical and mental muscular stimulation. Mind-muscle connection describes the conscious and deliberate muscle contraction. When you focus on creating tension in a specific region of the body, you create greater muscular activation. When we perform core-specific exercises, we direct all our mental focus into the core region only.
There are many great core exercises out there, but some particular favorites for CrossFit fans are hollow holds, planks, and GHD sit-ups. Hollow holds and planks are our static holds, so you don’t move when we perform them. You must keep our core tight to maintain optimal biomechanical positioning. GHD machine reps are our dynamic movement. During a GHD sit-up, keep your core stabilised against the force of our hip flexors.
The more you do these exercises, the easier they will become. Progression can continue to be made by increasing the duration, frequency, intensity, or load of the movement. Progressive overload is important to avoid any training plateaus.
Workouts – Wods that Work your Core
CrossFit ab workouts are typically associated with high-intensity metcons performed for time, reps, or rounds. In metcon-type workouts, we should be including our dynamic core exercises, such as sit-ups, V ups, toes to bar, and GHD sit-ups. We can also include the classic hollow rocks exercise.
Our static core holds are based on movement quality rather than quantity, they should be avoided in metcons and performed as accessory work. There’s no real way you can make a plank go faster (although that would be really nice). When adding core work into your training regime, find a good balance of metcons and accessories to maximise your progress.
CrossFit Core MetCons
Core MetCon 1: EMOM12
✅ 8 Toes to Bar
✅ 8 GHD Sit Ups
✅ 8 Butterfly Sit Ups (alternative: V ups)
Core MetCon 2: DT Annie – 5 Rounds For Time
✅ 12 Deadlifts
✅ 9 Hang Power Cleans
✅ 6 Push Jerks
*50, 40, 30, 20, 10 Sit-ups after each round
CrossFit Core Accessories
Core Accessory 1: 5 Rounds – 60s Work/60s Rest
✅ Hollow Hold
✅ Superman Hold
✅ Weighted Plank – Put an Olympic barbell plate on your back to increase the difficulty of the hold.
Core Accessory 2: 5 Sets – 10-15 Reps/30s Rest
✅ Hip Extensions
✅ Single-Leg Glute Bridge
✅ Bird Dogs
CrossFit fan. Ex-personal trainer, triathlete, and cross-country mountain biker. Masters Competitive CrossFit athlete. Writer and blogger.