Compound workouts can help you train many muscles with a few exercises. What are some compound exercises that focus a lot on your ab and other core muscles?
Compound exercises are movements that work out multiple muscles at the same time. Most of these exercises can be done with a wide variety of free weights, resistance bands, and gym machines.
The best weights for compound exercises vary from exercise to exercise and individual to individual. If you are not sure how much weight would be right for you, you can start with light weights and slowly build up from there.
Keep in mind that even though there are upsides, your injury risk is generally also higher when you do exercises with more weight/resistance. You may want to talk to your primary care provider before starting a new workout routine.
Before you give these compound ab exercises a try, remember that you generally can’t target fat loss in specific body parts. These exercises can be helpful for building abs but relatively bad for losing belly fat. If that is your goal you want to look for exercises that help you burn a lot of calories.
1. Bird dog crunches
The bird dog exercise is an exercise that is mainly done to strengthen core muscles. By doing the crunch alternative you engage core muscles like your obliques even more. To do a bird dog crunch take the following steps:
- Start with your face facing the floor with your hands on the ground, your arms stretched, and your knees on the ground.
- Stretch one leg and raise it until it is in a straight line with your body. At the same time stretch the arm of the opposite side and raise it until it is in a straight line with your body. So if you choose your right leg, raise your left arm at the same time.
- Lower the raised leg and raised arm again and move the elbow and knee toward and past each other as far as comfortable.
- Lower the raised leg and raised arm again in a controlled motion to starting position.
- Repeat the same movement with your other leg and other arm.
One downside of this compound exercise is that individuals more experienced with resistance training may need extra weights to make bird dog crunches challenging enough.
You can hold weights like dumbbells in your hands and use resistance bands or wear ankle weights for your legs.
Some of the muscles you engage with this compound ab exercise include: abs, obliques, back muscles, erector spinae, glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings.
2. Ab wheel knee rollouts
The ab wheel is a small piece of fitness equipment that is a wheel with two handles. It may not look like much but ab wheel exercises can offer a great workout for your abs and other muscles.
The data from one study even suggests that some ab wheel exercises are an even more effective alternative than more standard ab exercises like sit-ups and crunches for engaging ab muscles (1). To do an ab wheel knee roll-out take the following steps:
- Start with your face facing the floor on your knees and with your hands on the ab wheel.
- Stretch your hips so that your body is in a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
- Roll forward in a controlled motion, preferably until your stomach is right above the ground.
- Slowly roll back into the position of step 2.
If you are more of a beginner you can start with smaller distances instead of until your stomach is right above the ground. The knee roll-out is only one option. If you like using the ab wheel there are many other exercises to choose from.
Some of the muscles you engage with this compound ab exercise include: abs, obliques, deltoids, forearms, and core muscles.
3. Bent-over row
The bent-over row definitely does not look like some of the more standard ab exercises like crunches, sit-ups, and knee raises.
Even so, especially at heavy weights, your abs and other core muscles have to exert a lot of effort to keep your back straight during this compound exercise. To do a bent-over row with dumbbells take the following steps:
- Stand up straight with your feet at about shoulder width and a dumbbell in each hand.
- Slightly fold your knees and tilt your upper body forward until it is at about a 45-degree angle with the ground while keeping your back straight. Let your arms hang down to the ground for now.
- Bend your elbows until your hands reach your body. The goal is to mainly make your back muscles support this movement. Keep your arms close to your body, your body in a straight line, and your feet in the same position during the movement.
- Lower your hands again to the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.
Some of the muscles you engage with this compound ab exercise include: core, latissimus dorsi (big back muscle), rhomboids, trapezius, legs.
4. Stability ball tucks
This next compound exercise requires a stability ball but you can also do a similar movement if you have an ab wheel with a foot attachment. Once you have one of these to do a stability ball tuck take the following steps:
- Start on your hand and knees in front of the stability ball with your feet towards the ball. Keep your arms stretched.
- Put one foot on the stability ball.
- Put your second foot on the stability ball and roll the ball away from you until your legs are stretched and your upper arms at about a 90-degree angle to the ground.
- Roll the ball toward you by moving your knees toward your chest as far as you comfortably can.
- Roll the ball back into the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.
Stability ball tucks are a challenging exercise for both your core muscles and balance. It is possible that you need to train both of these fitness components with other exercises before you are able to do stability ball tucks.
Some of the muscles you engage with this compound ab exercise include: obliques, back muscles, erector spinae, glutes, and quadriceps.
The word deadlift is almost synonymous with the words compound exercise. One downside of this exercise is that you likely need extra resistance like a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells, etc. to make the deadlift challenging enough. To do a deadlift with a barbell take the following steps:
- Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width in front of a barbell with or without weight plates.
- Slightly fold your knees and tilt your upper body forward to grab the barbell on the ground. Hold it with an overhanded grip, with your hand palms facing downward/backward.
- Stretch your knees and tilt back your upper body at the same time until your upper body and legs are stretched in one straight line. When doing a deadlift it is very important to keep your back in a straight line during the exercise.
- Slowly move back into the position of step 2.
Good technique is important in any exercise to avoid injuries but especially so for deadlifts. Before trying to deadlift the heaviest weights it is smart to improve your technique first by starting with light or no weights at all. After that, the deadlift is traditionally an exercise that is done with relatively heavy external weights.
Some of the muscles you engage with this compound ab exercise include: glute muscles, calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, erector spinae, and trapezius.
6. T pushups
Pushups are one of the most popular exercises there is. By adding the extra movement specific to T-pushups you make this even more of a compound exercise. You can do T pushups with just your body weight.
That being said, by adding weights like dumbbells you can implement a neutral grip and make the movement more challenging for your muscles. To do a T pushup with a dumbbell take the following steps:
- Place the dumbbells at about shoulder-width apart on the ground. For the neutral grip, you want them to face forward.
- Get into the position where your face is facing the floor with your hands on the dumbbell grips. Your arms stretched, and your knees on the ground.
- Move your feet back until your body is in a straight line.
- Slowly fold your arms at your elbows until your face is close to the ground. Your arms should be at an angle of about 45 degrees to your sides. Another way to put it is if someone is looking down at you from above your arms should make an arrow, not a T.
- Stretch your arms again until you are back in a straight arm plank position.
- Shift your weight so that you only lean on one arm. Move the free arm sideways and up the air until your arms are in one line.
- Lower the free arm again until you are in the position of step 5.
- Repeat with leaning on the other arm to avoid any muscle imbalances.
Some of the muscles you engage with this compound ab exercise include: abs, obliques, shoulders, chest, triceps, and lower back.
To do a woodchop with a kettlebell take the following steps:
- Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart. Slightly bend your knees for stability. Hold one kettlebell in your hands. In starting position you slightly turn your upper body to one side with the kettlebell at about hip height. Keep your arms slightly less than stretched throughout the exercise.
- Move the kettlebell sideways and upward to above your shoulders at the opposite side of the starting side.
- Slowly lower the kettlebells along the same path it went up until it is in starting position.
- Repeat the same number of repetitions with the kettlebell starting at the opposite side to avoid any muscle imbalances.
Make sure you don’t twist your back too much to avoid any injuries. If you have a history of back issues this compound exercise may not be the right choice for you.
Some of the muscles you engage with this compound ab exercise include: abs, obliques, shoulders, upper and lower back, and legs.
8. Back squats
Squats are an extremely popular leg compound exercise and for a good reason. Back squats are the same exercise but with a weight, often a barbell, resting on your shoulders.
Since you bend your upper body forward during the exercise your abs and other core muscles will have to work a lot harder during the exercise because of the extra weight on your shoulders (2). To do a back squat with a barbell take the following steps:
- Find a squat rack and place the barbell at about chest height. Add the desired number of weight plates. If there are any safety bars adjust them to the right height.
- Stand under the barbell, push your shoulders up so that the barbell rests on your higher back, and hold it there with your hands.
- Unrack the barbell and take a few steps back so that you have room to squat. Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width.
- Slowly lower your hips by bending your knees. How far depends on different factors like knee health but at your lowest point you want your hips to be at or lower than your knee height. You will likely have to bend forward for balance but keep your back in a straight line throughout the movement.
- Push yourself up again into starting position by stretching your legs.
- Rerack the barbell after your desired number of repetitions.
Some of the muscles you engage with this compound ab exercise include: abs, core, quadriceps, calves, glutes, hamstrings, erector spinae, and lower back.
9. Overhead presses
The shoulder press is a popular compound exercise for growing shoulder muscles but it also engages your core muscles. You can do this exercise with a variety of free weights, machines, and good resistance bands.
To do a shoulder press with a kettlebell take the following steps:
- Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a kettlebell in each hand at about shoulder height with your hand palms facing forward. Your elbows point about 45 degrees more forward than just a horizontal line with your shoulders.
- Slowly move the kettlebells up until your arms are slightly less than stretched.
- Lower the kettlebells back into starting position in a controlled motion.
Some of the muscles you engage with this compound ab exercise include: front and middle shoulder muscles, triceps, and trapezius.
Planks are a type of isometric exercise. In simpler words, this means that you engage your muscles in a more static way, without moving a lot. On the other hand, you have isotonic exercises where you engage your muscles in a dynamic way, by moving.
Isotonic exercises are generally more useful for building muscle. That means that the other isotonic exercises on this list are likely better bodyweight compound exercises for building a lot of muscle. That being said, to do a plank take the following steps:
- Start with your face facing the floor on your elbows and knees.
- Move your feet back until your body is in a straight line. This means that your knees will be off the ground and that you are resting on your feet and elbows.
- Hold this position for an extended period of time.
Some of the muscles you engage with this compound ab exercise include: abs, obliques, back muscles, erector spinae, glutes, and quadriceps.