T Nation

Ab Weakness

Hello Jim and others! :slight_smile:

I have neglected direct ab work and it has caught up to me. Now my back hurts from doing deadlifts. Doing ab work relieves the pain.
My question is how I best approach solving this problem, how I can best get rid off this imbalance.

  • Should I do ab work at the end of my workouts and simply up the volume?
  • Should I stop doing lower body work for two weeks or so and work those abs aggressively?
  • Can I do ab work in between sets of deads and squats, or is this an unreasonable thing to do?

I am in my mid-twenties, 5’10’’, 220 pounds and according to Lon Kilgore’s standardards an intermediate lifter.

Thank you!

It’s good that you have decided to start working abs before it’s too late, but only after hurting your back. The initial question is 'was it the deadlift that hurt your back (bad form), was it a result of another weak link (posterior chain), tight muscles or a result of weak abs?

Sometimes it can be one of those things or a cumulative effect of one or more leading to your back hurting. I need a bit more information such as did it happen during the deadlift or did you feel it that day/next day? Was it a all-out max set or just a general warm up? That would be good to know.

I will try to answer your questions as best I can with the information provided.

  • Should I do ab work at the end of my workouts and simply up the volume?
    Ab work is best done at the end of your workout, otherwise you’ll fatigue your core musculature and that’s the last thing you need when you squat or deadlift. I’m not sure what you mean by ‘up the volume’ as you haven’t listed your current volume. I do 4 exercises in a row for 2 giant sets, so 8 sets total. That’s twice a week on lower body days and that’s more than sufficient. I never use a belt to also help to engage my core.

  • Should I stop doing lower body work for two weeks or so and work those abs aggressively?
    I wouldn’t neglect lower body work and focus on abs, but maybe you would benefit from a deload week or two. Still train, but at a reduced intensity. It also depends on whether you’re actually injured or you’ve simply tweaked something.

  • Can I do ab work in between sets of deads and squats, or is this an unreasonable thing to do?
    I’ve answered this in the first question, but it bears repeating again - NO, I would not do ab work inbetween those two major lifts.

Overall, I would recommend stretching your lower body (calves, hamstrings, quads, hips, ankles) and your lower back. A brilliant and ery cheap aid would be a foam roller. They really are amazing and very neglected for helping to prevent injuries, as well as treat mild existing problems. Work on that core and don’t neglect the obliques or transverse abdominis (the muscle you use to breath in your gut when a hot chick walks by).

I generally do hanging leg raises (feet to bar) on squat day and ab wheel rollouts on deadlift day (either as the last exercise or super-set with back extensions). Generally 30-50 reps total, although you may have to do less when starting out (I could only do 2-3 hanging leg raises per set at first).

I have been doing standing ab pull downs against bands often to warm up and frequently in between sets of dead lifts and squats for decades. I have never experienced any fatigue or ill affects that I am aware of. I have also read - on this site recently as a matter of fact but I can’t remember which article - that banded ab pull-downs help warm up the abs and elongate the torso - which promotes back health on a number of levels. That area benefits mightily from blood flow and spinal fluid circulation. Since this is a 5-3-1 forum, I will paraphrase JW and note that he often recommends chin-ups and pull-ups in between sets for the upper body without worrying about fatigue. I realize these are different body parts, but I have only experienced positive results.

I always wonder whether I do enough for abs. I do no more for abs now, my deadlift being in the early 500’s, to when my deadlift was in the early 400’s. I’m undecided as to whether I should be doing more to reflect the increase - however my abs will have gotten stronger due to heavier deads and squats too I suppose.

I find focussing on quality and breathing when doing abs has helped with my breathing in the bottom position of squats. Focussing on slowly lowering and tensing hard at the top of the ab movement feels good. It may take a few extra minutes per set, but I definitely think quality gets overlooked with ab movements. People just go through the motions and pay lip service to them.

Just an idea I have for obliques: do a side plank (don’t judge me) for 30-60 seconds, then superset that with a one arm db hold (60-120 lb depending on strength) for 30-60 seconds. Ex- hold a plank using your left arm on the ground and hold, then grab the db and hold it in your right hand-which will force your left side to hold upright. Weighted side bends starting irritating my low back, this superset doesnt.

To add to the post above, switch planks first then db holds, then next session or two use db holds first then the planks.

I’d look at my deadlift form and general mobility before worrying about potential imbalances. In my view it’s pretty hard to get an “intermediate” squat and dead without developing decent core strength in the process.

Having said that, ab wheel rollouts and hanging leg raises are awesome.

One more reason why “doing things correctly, all the time” pays off. I answer questions like this and by the fools being swayed by the anti-stretching crowd every day.

On training days: do ab work as part of warm-up and after your main lift and supplemental lift.
On non lifting days, do it after your warm-up but before your training.

Weighted planks have been good to me, as have: ab wheel, side bends, and hanging/lying leg raises.

I have found these to be an awesome addition to my programing for abs: