Compound lifts to cement that washboard

Everyone’s got a six-pack, but for most of us it’s hidden under a layer of fat. Here’s how to make yours stand out


The right compound exercises will work your core harder than any sit-up. Strength coach Bret Contreras lists the moves that should form the core of your workouts.

Turkish get-up

‘In experiments measuring muscle activation, the Turkish get-up was the only move that registered 100% “peak” activity in all four core muscles,’ says Contreras. Include them during your warm up to wake up all your joints and muscles.

Back squat

‘This showed higher activation in the rectus abdominis than a weighted crunch in the experiments, which used electromyography [EMG] to measure muscle activation,’ says Contreras. If you aren’t doing them already, or are skipping legs day, use them as part of your core workout.
Beginner: three sets of ten holding a 24kg sandbag or Bulgarian bag
Intermediate: three sets of 10 with 60kg on the bar
Advanced: three sets of 10 with 80kg on the bar and three second negatives

Bulgarian split squat

‘Unlike the other moves in this list this is a unilateral move, but it shows huge activation in the erector spinae as well as the rectus abdominis,’ says Contreras. Working these muscles is a vital element of core strength.
Beginner: three sets of 12 with just your bodyweight
Intermediate: three sets of 12 holding a 15kg weight plate
Advanced: three sets of 21s holding a 15kg weight plate – do seven half reps at the bottom of the move, seven half reps at the top of the move and seven complete reps


‘In EMG tests, chin-ups prompted more rectus abdominis activity than any other exercise,’ says Contreras. ‘Perform slow, controlled reps, focusing on keeping your hips and spine in a straight line throughout.’ Avoid kipping or using momentum. Lower until your arms are straight between each rep.
Beginner: three sets of eight negatives – jump up to the bar and lower slowly
Intermediate: three sets of eight full reps – dead hang between reps
Advanced: three sets of eight reps with three second negatives – dead hang between reps and lower for three seconds

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