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10 Best Compound Exercises for Six-Pack Abs

Sculpt an impressive six-pack with these compound exercises.
FACT CHECKED BY Alexa Mellardo

Compound exercises have earned their acclaim for elevating your strength while activating multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Familiar compound classics like squats, bench presses, deadlifts, shoulder presses, pull-ups, and rows are likely already part of your exercise repertoire, and with good cause. Compound exercises are often positioned at the forefront of workout routines and harbor a hidden gem: their remarkable ability to engage abdominal muscles for stability. Below, I'll share some of my top compound exercises to sculpt six-pack abs, so listen up.

What sets these movements apart is their utilization of diverse loading patterns, like goblet holds, front racks, and varying base stances, which increase the engagement of the abdominal muscles to maintain upright torso positioning. Remember to engage your abs with each repetition to maximize results! Keep reading for the best compound exercises for six-pack abs, and when you're finished, be sure to check out these 8 Tips for Boosting Muscle Growth After 50, According to a Trainer.

Kettlebell Front Squats

kettlebell front squats, concept of compound exercises for six-pack abs

Our list of compound exercises for six-pack abs kicks off with the kettlebell front squat. This exercise is exceptional for developing six-pack abs due to the heightened engagement of your core muscles. Holding the kettlebells in front of the body forces your abs to stabilize against the weight, leading to increased activation of the rectus abdominis (six-pack muscles) and overall core strength. Front squats are also a compound exercise that recruits multiple muscle groups at once, promoting functional strength and calorie burn. By mimicking real-life movements, they sculpt the abs, improve daily performance, and reduce the risk of injury.

Start by holding a kettlebell with both hands at chest level, elbows pointing to the sides, and palms facing the floor (a front rack position). Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Next, squeeze your core for stability, and squat by pushing your hips back and bending your knees, lowering your body while keeping your chest up and weight centered over your mid-foot. Aim to descend until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Drive through your whole foot, and engage your glutes to return to the starting position. Complete three sets of eight to 12 reps with a five-second controlled lowering to intensify the stability effect. Rest for 90 seconds between sets.

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Renegade Rows

dumbbell renegade row, concept of compound exercises for six-pack abs

Renegade rows are remarkable for six-pack abs development due to their focus on core stabilization and anti-rotation training. The core muscles, including the rectus abdominis and obliques, are engaged to maintain stability by performing rows in a plank position. This compound movement targets the back, shoulders, and arms, increasing demand on the core and developing greater abdominal strength and chiseled definition.

Start in a plank position with your hands under your shoulders, gripping dumbbells. Lift one hand, pulling your elbow to the ceiling in a strong rowing motion while balancing on the other arm. Alternate sides, maintaining stability and squeezing your core. Make sure to use non-rounded dumbbells for a stable surface. Complete three sets of 12 to 15 reps per side with 60 seconds of rest between sets.

Staggered Stance Kettlebell Deadlifts

Staggered stance kettlebell deadlifts are fantastic for core development due to their ability to engage and challenge the stabilizing muscles of the torso. The staggered stance introduces an element of asymmetry, requiring the core muscles to work harder to maintain balance and stability throughout the exercise. The hinge-based movement targets the posterior chain, including the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings, all requiring strong core support for proper execution.

Start by positioning two kettlebells on the ground before you, one on each side of your feet. Adopt a staggered stance, with one foot slightly forward and the other slightly back. Maintaining a flat back and engaged core, grip the kettlebells with both hands, and lift them off the ground by driving through your whole foot. Keep your shoulders back and down as you stand tall, squeeze your glutes at the top, and then lower the kettlebells back to the starting position with control. Perform three sets of 6 to 12 reps per side with 90 seconds of rest between sets.

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Seated Z Press

The seated Z press is a premier shoulder exercise that leverages your core for stability. Positioned in a seated straddle stance, it demands strong engagement from your upper back and abdominal muscles to maintain a stable and upright torso while pressing the dumbbells overhead. For those finding the two-dumbbell variation challenging, opting for a single-arm Z press can still yield significant benefits while accommodating varying strength levels.

Sit on the floor with your legs extended in a "V" shape, and hold dumbbells at shoulder height with palms facing inward. Engage your core, press the dumbbells overhead without locking out elbows, and maintain a neutral spine without leaning back. Lower the dumbbells under control to the starting position. Complete three sets of eight to 15 reps with 90 seconds of rest between sets.

Heel-elevated Goblet Squats

The heel-elevated goblet squat is a dynamic compound exercise for sculpting abs and defining quads. Elevating the heels increases the range of motion, intensifying the activation of the quadriceps for leaner definition. Stabilizing the weight in a goblet hold on an elevated surface enhances core engagement, strengthening and shredding the abdominal muscles.

Grab a dumbbell, hold it close to your chest with both hands, and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, elevating your heels with a weight plate two to three inches above the floor. Next, squeeze your abs to engage the core and lower into a squat by bending at your knees while maintaining an upright chest and straight back. Drive through your entire foot to return to the starting stance. Perform three sets of 12 to 20 reps with 90 seconds of rest between sets.

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Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Presses

single-arm dumbbell bench press, concept of compound exercises for six-pack abs

The single-arm dumbbell bench press effectively increases muscle size and strength in your chest muscles while targeting core development. By performing the exercise with one arm at a time, you engage more stabilizer muscles, including core ones, to maintain balance and control throughout the movement. This increased demand on the core enhances stability and strengthens the abdominal and oblique muscles, improving overall core strength. Meanwhile, the pressing motion effectively targets the chest muscles, stimulating muscle growth and promoting greater upper-body strength.

Lie flat on a bench with your feet planted firmly on the ground, and hold a dumbbell in one hand. Press the dumbbell straight above your shoulder to set in the start position. Engage your core for stability as you lower the dumbbell toward your chest, keeping your elbow close to your body. Pause briefly, and press the dumbbell back to the starting position. Complete three sets of 12 to 15 reps per side with 90 seconds of rest between sets.

Single-Arm Bent-Over Rows

The single-arm bent-over row is a versatile exercise that targets the upper back, lats, and biceps while also engaging the core for stabilization. As you row the weight toward your body, it challenges your core to resist rotation, particularly when the weight shifts closer or farther away from your body. This anti-rotation component intensifies core engagement, making it an effective exercise for simultaneously building both upper body strength and core stability.

To perform a single-arm bent-over row, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in one hand. Hinge at the hips, keeping your back straight and chest up, with your torso at a 45-degree angle (close to parallel with the floor). Engage your core to stabilize and prevent rotation. Pull the dumbbell toward your hip, keeping your elbow close to your body, then lower it with control. Perform three sets of eight to 15 reps per side with 90 seconds of rest between sets.

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Med Ball Slam

illustration of medicine ball slams

Front slams provide a dynamic approach to sculpting a shredded six-pack, focusing on the rectus abdominis while enhancing strength, power, and endurance. Each repetition amps up the intensity, contributing to weight loss and lean muscle mass development. The fundamentals lie in focusing and executing each slam precisely and intentionally, ensuring maximum effectiveness and optimal results from this impactful exercise. Be sure to use a medicine ball that doesn't bounce—trust me.

Here's a guide for front slams: Stand tall, holding a non-bouncing med ball. Engage your abs while raising the ball overhead until your arms extend. Slam the ball before you with power, engaging your abs further as you crunch down. Repeat for your preferred number of sets and reps or a set duration. For power, perform three to five sets of five slams. For endurance, perform three to five sets of 10 to 15 reps or 30 to 45-second intervals. Rest for 60 seconds between sets.

Planks with Pull-throughs

Take your core workout to the next level beyond the standard plank with the plank with dumbbell pull-through. This exercise intensifies core stabilization and reinforces anti-rotation capabilities, targeting every muscle fiber in your core. Emphasizing functional anti-rotation movement is a dynamic way to sculpt and strengthen your abs, proving that shredded abs can enhance functional fitness.

To perform the plank with dumbbell pull-through, begin in a plank position with a dumbbell placed beside you. Squeeze your abs in the plank, and use one hand to reach under your body, grabbing the dumbbell and pulling it across. Keep your body straight by engaging your core, and then pull the dumbbell back to the starting position with your other hand. Perform three to four sets of 10 to 15 reps per side with 60 seconds of rest between sets.

Single-Side Front Rack Carry

This list of compound exercises for six-pack abs wraps up with the single-side front rack carry. This exercise offers a functional and effective means to build a six-pack and enhance overall core strength. Holding a weight at shoulder level in one hand and walking activates your core muscles to stabilize your body and maintain proper posture. This exercise targets the rectus abdominis and engages the obliques and deep core muscles. Plus, the unilateral nature of the movement addresses any asymmetries, promoting balanced muscle growth and enhancing overall core stability.

Hold a weight at shoulder height in one hand with your core engaged. Keep your shoulders level, and avoid leaning to either side as you squeeze your core to engage the abdominal muscles. Continue to walk for a designated distance or time. Complete three to five rounds or 30-second carries per side with 90 seconds of rest between sets.

Jarrod Nobbe, MA, CSCS
Jarrod Nobbe is a USAW National Coach, Sports Performance Coach, Personal Trainer, and writer, and has been involved in health and fitness for the past 12 years. Read more about Jarrod
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