Plenty of gym-goers know they have to work their core for a number of reasons – for better sports performance, body stability and, of course, to get the all-important six-pack. While it’s crucial to work your core muscles, simply doing crunches isn’t all that clever – train a bit smarter and you can work other muscles at the same time. Personal trainer Jamie Lloyd (russiankettlebellsuk.com) suggests some compound moves that hit other major muscles as well as the core for an all-around workout that will get you leaner, stronger and on track for hard abs. 

1. Kettlebell overhead press

Overhead pressing – done correctly – presents a tremendous challenge to the anterior core, because you have to brace to prevent excessive arching of the low back. If you make the movement one-sided, that adds the challenge of not side bending. In other words, it becomes a rotational and lateral core challenge.

The kettlebell press offers some very simple, yet challenging, variations. You can perform them kneeling on one or both knees, or simply hold the bell upside down (usually known as ‘bottom-up’) for an added stability challenge.

2. Band-resisted roll-out

You probably think of the roll-out as a direct core stability exercise – and in many cases, I would agree with you. When it’s done with no resistance, the demand on your upper body to roll back isn’t that high. But once you’re proficient at rolling the unloaded wheel or barbell, you can add bands to the wheel or use a loaded barbell. This creates more work for the upper body – and in turn even more for the core, which is trying to resist movement. This will help you not only build a strong midsection, but also target the lats and triceps.

3. Split-stance overhead triceps extension

This one is a killer – and I love it. If you think of it as just another triceps extension, think again. With the lever arm so far away from the lower back, even a small amount of weight can make it seriously difficult to keep the core braced. Plus the need to control the load more, and stay strict with the form, usually leaves people’s elbows feeling a lot better than other extension exercises.

4. Renegade row

Anyone who has ever done a renegade row strictly and with enough weight knows that it’s a brutal test for both the upper back and the core. It offers much the same benefits as a one-arm or gym ball press-up. If you’re hitting your upper body and want an additional core element, this is better than the single-arm dumbbell row.

5. Half-kneeling cable push/pull

The ultimate challenge in moving your upper extremities around a stable mid-section – it requires some set-up, but it’s worth the hassle. Unlike many off-loaded push or pull exercises, you don’t get the opportunity to brace one side of the body and focus your attention mainly on the moving side. Instead, both sides are actively going through concentric and eccentric motions while you brace your midsection and engage your glutes.