You’ve heard it before: “Abs are made in the kitchen.” Yes, that’s partly true, but they’re made in the gym too—for any muscle to grow in size and density, it needs stimulus. To sculpt a ripped six-pack, you’ll need to target your abs with more than just a few plank holds and ab-wheel rollouts. Every exercise you do should engage the core so your trunk is stabilized in space.
These 10 upper body exercises build a strong and thick upper-body and hammer your midsection at the same time. Forget “abs day” and make every training session a phenomenal core workout.
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1. Feet-Elevated Pushups
Pushups should be a staple in every guy’s workout routine. To crank up the intensity on a pushup (or plank), an easy trick is to elevate your feet: you’ll shift the center of gravity towards your core and upper-body and get more results.
Place your feet on a bench and do your pushups. Keep your lower back flat and don’t let your hips sag. To make it harder, use a higher surface; to make it easier, use a lower surface.
2. Single-Arm Bent-Over Row
Single-arm exercises spike your core activation because your abs and obliques have to resist bending and twisting.
Bend your knees slightly and bend at your hip so that your lower back is flat and your torso is almost parallel to the ground. With a dumbbell in one hand and your other hand behind your back, squeeze your shoulder blades and row.
3. Barbell Overhead Press
Pressing a heavy object is one of best ways to build a strong and ripped core. The core aids in transferring energy from the ground to your arms and stabilizing the heavy weight when it’s fully extended overhead.
Start with a barbell resting on your shoulders and collarbones. Grab the barbell with your hands slightly outside the width of your shoulders and your elbows slightly in front of the bar. Push the barbell vertically in a straight line and shrug your shoulders at the top of the movement. Bring back down to the starting position in a controlled manner. Repeat.
Pullups are a phenomenal exercise to build a strong grip and wide back, but you can amp them up with a move that blasts your core, too.
Grab a pullup bar and lift your legs in front of you so your body forms an L. Hold this position, squeeze your shoulder blades together, and pull yourself up.
5. Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press
With a single-arm bench press, you’ll increase your core strength and strengthen each side independently, reducing injury-causing asymmetries.
Lie on a flat bench with your feet firmly planted into the ground and your shoulder blades squeezed together. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell on one side and press above.
6. Pushup with One-Arm Reach
Sculpt a bigger chest and stronger core with this pushup variation. By putting one arm on a sliding surface and reaching forward, you’ll amp the intensity on the other arm and challenge your total-body stability.
Place one palm on a slideboard or Valslide. From the pushup position, descend into a pushup while simultaneously reaching forward with the hand on the sliding surface. When you’re at the bottom of the pushup, your sliding arm should be locked out.
7. Single-Arm Single-Leg Cable Row
Here’s an easy way to fire up your core: stand on one leg. With only one base of support, your core has to work overtime to keep your body stable and to transfer force from your single leg to your upper body.
Set a cable handle to chest height, grab the handle, and lift the leg on the same side. (Right arm pulling, left leg down and vice versa.) Squeeze your shoulder blades and row. Avoid twisting or bending forward.
8. Half-Kneeling Landmine Press
By placing a barbell in a landmine, the bar becomes a lever and moves in an arc. This is a great alternative for people with shoulder issues because they don’t have to press directly overhead. Also, by getting on just one knee, you’ll spike your core activation because of the instability challenge. If you don’t have a landmine, just stick one end of a barbell into a steady corner.
Get on one knee and hold the end of the barbell with the side that has the knee down. Squeeze your trailing glute and keep your entire body as tight as possible as you push overhead.
9. Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Press
Holding a kettlebell by its handle but inverted, with the weighted part above your hand, requires more coordination and stability than a standard kettlebell press. As long as the kettlebell stays up, you’re doing it right.
Hold the kettlebell with the weight portion above your hand and start with your hand by your shoulder. Squeeze the handle hard, squeeze your glutes, and lift the weight overhead. Don’t think about pushing the kettlebell up — think about pushing yourself into the ground.
10. Kettlebell Renegade Row
The renegade row is the ideal muscle-building cardio exercise. It adds a load to the core, builds the lats and burns calories fast.
Set two kettlebells about shoulder-width apart. Get into a pushup position with your hands grabbing the handles and your feet very wide. Perform a pushup. At the top, row one kettlebell, set it down, then do the other side. That’s one rep.