Mediocre core workouts produce mediocre core strength and abdominal development. What defines a “mediocre” core workout? Some situps, some crunches, maybe a basic plank, then calling it a day could be considered less than an all-out workout.

Those guys you see doing the “human flag” — they’re not doing run-of-the-mill ab routines. They’re hitting advanced core workouts, like the one below from Staff Sergeant and Military Police Officer Ed Hawthorne, “part of this week’s Military Monday workout, in partnership with product development company Bravo Sierra.

“I’ve found that one of the greatest misconceptions in fitness is how to accurately strengthen the abdominals,” says SSgt. Hawthorne. “Those who strive for above-average performance should seek to upgrade from rudimentary routines. Advanced core exercises have led me to advanced results. With them, I’ve grown to perform top-tier feats of strength like the human flag, dragon flag, and front lever hold. Below is one of many unique but challenging ab routines I’ve used for several years.”

Featured Trainer: Staff Sergeant Ed Hawthorne is a military police officer in the Army Reserve. He works full-time in Pittsburgh, PA, where he was born and raised. His love for fitness has been growing since enlisting in 2010.

Equipment Needed: Pullup bar, captain’s chair, weight plate, medicine ball; though all exercises can be easily modified to be done with bodyweight only.

Time Commitment: Approximately 30 to 40 minutes, including warmup.

Workout Overview: Hawthorne’s routine consists of six exercises you’re probably familiar with in their basic forms — leg raises (two variation), situps, planks (two variations), and V-ups. In this workout, each move is leveled up via added resistance, an added movement, or altered positioning.

“The core is engaged constantly for common daily tasks as simple as sitting up to get out of bed and even walking upright,” says SSgt. Hawthorne. “That said, the midsection requires a lot more stress in order to become stronger, as it’s normally being worked when you don’t even realize it.”

Disclaimer: This workout is not for beginners. SSgt. Hawthorne says you should have “at least a moderate level of strength” before taking it on. He does, however, list a scaling alternative for each exercise to make the routine slightly more doable. “The alternatives,” he says, “provide a bit less intensity for those unable to do anything listed in the primary plan.”

SSG Hawthorne’s Advanced Ab Workout


  • 20 Jumping Jacks
  • 15-sec Dead hang from pull-up bar
  • 20 Standing side twists (10 each side)
  • 15-sec Cobra Pose Abdominal Stretch
  • 15-sec Leg Crossover Stretch
  • 15-sec Toe-touch stretch (standing or sitting)


Perform all sets of one exercise before moving onto the next. Rest as needed between sets.

The Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
Hanging Leg Raise (Toes to Bar) 4 6
Captain’s Chair Leg Raise (w/ Medicine Ball) 4 20*
Weighted Decline Sit-Up to Overhead Thrust 4 12
Elevated Plank 4 60 sec
V-Up to 6-inch Hold 4 10/10 sec. /10**
Weighted Side Plank 3 30 sec. (each side)
*10 reps with medicine ball, 10 reps without ball.
**10 V-Ups + 10-second hold with legs 6 inches off the floor + 10 V-Ups from 6-inch leg position.

Exercise Descriptions 

Hanging Leg Raise (Toes to Bar): From a dead hang on a pullup bar, keep your feet together and lift both legs until your toes make contact with the bar.
Alternative: Hanging Knee Raise. From a dead hang, keep your knees together and raise to chest level, bending the knees as you raise them.

Captain’s Chair Leg Raise (w/ Medicine Ball): With your body suspended from a captain’s chair (aka Roman Chair or vertical bench), squeeze a 10-pound medicine ball between your feet and keep it there while performing 10 leg raises. After the 10th rep, drop the ball and do 10 more reps with no resistance to complete one set.
Alternative: Use a lighter medicine ball for the first 10 reps, or do all reps without a med ball (no resistance). If you don’t have a captain’s chair, do lying reverse crunches on the floor.

Weighted Decline Situp to Overhead Thrust: Lying on a decline bench, hold a 45-pound plate against your chest in the down position of a sit-up. The plate should be grasped like a steering wheel, with your hands placed at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock. Perform a decline sit-up, keeping the plate against your chest. Keep your torso upright and perform an overhead press with the plate until your arms are fully extended, then thrust upward at the hips as if pushing the plate toward the sky. When you come back down, return the plate back to your chest and lower your torso to the down position of the sit-up.
Alternative: Do the exercise with a 25- or 10-pound plate.

Elevated Plank: Begin in a standard plank, with your feet against the base of a wall and your forearms shoulder-width apart on the floor. Keeping your body in a straight line, place your feet together 6 to 8 inches off the floor against the wall. Hold the position for 60 seconds, keeping your core tight the entire time.
Alternative: Hold the elevated plank for 30 seconds, gradually working your way up to 60 seconds as you improve core strength and stability.

V-up to 6-Inch Hold: Lie faceup on the floor with your legs straight and arms extended overhead. In one movement, lift your torso and legs as if trying to touch your toes (a standard V-Up movement). Lower your body back down, and repeat. After 10 reps, lower your legs approximately 6 inches off the floor and hold for 10 seconds (arms can be placed at your sides for support). After 10 seconds, complete 10 more V-Ups, starting each rep with your feet 6 inches off the floor.
Alternative: Complete the exercise with few reps – 5-8 reps, 10-second hold, then 5-8 reps to finish.

Weighted Side Plank: Lie on your side with your legs straight, feet together, and upper body propped with the forearm closer to floor. Place a 45-pound plate against your torso on your upward-facing side, securing the plate with the same side hand and arm. Hold a rigid side plank position for 30 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side.
Alternative: Complete the exercise with a 10- or 25-pound plate.