T Nation

Increasing Core Strength w/o Direct Work


Can I build my abs with front squats and deadlifts only? Or do I REALLY have to do some weighted abs to make them stronger? I'm not looking to "bring them up with the rest of my body". I'm just curious if they would get waaay too understimulated if I train without direct ab work. I just don't want them to be too weak where they actually affect my squatting strength.

Thank you! :slightly_smiling:


It's not going to kill your squats or deads to a few sets of hanging leg raises at the end of your workout or on an off day or two. If you like indirectly working your abs, several studies I've seen have mentioned that carrying unbalanced loads does a good job of activating your core muscles, so doing something like the farmers walk might be good for ya as well.


It is not good if you dont train your abs directly, if you have some dysbalances or just they are weak (which is similar) squats and deadlifts arent going to fix them, it could get even worse. Its essential to build strong core, squats and deadlifts help, but its not enough.


saying that you get enough core work from squats and deads is likely to lead to an injury (while squatting or deading probably) in my opinion


What would your guy's opinions be on suitcase deadlifts for the OP should he want to avoid direct core work? Could be used as an accessory for deads or his front squat.


carry-ing stuff for me when I was doing strongman seems to not to affect the "abs" as the bodybuilders etc.. think of them but rather muscles deep inside the truck. lol hard to explain basically dont expect to get big abs muscles from carrying stuff your gonna need to hit them directly IMO.


I think you may be missing the point. Not doing them and hoping that your squat strength is not affected, is not the same as doing them in hopes of getting a stronger squat.

Are you afraid of getting a 'blocky' midsection?

There was an article in this month's performance menu about core training for weightlifters that may be of some interest to you.


It'd be worth checking out the exercises (and template) outlined in this article:



I think you can have very strong abs from just squatting and pulling. I did virtually no direct ab work for a couple years and suffered no ill effects. In fact, I probably added about 100-150 to both my squat and pull over that time. A couple months ago I added in a lot of direct ab work and my lifts have not changed dramatically.

I think this leads us to one of the quandries of accessory work. You're usually hard-pressed to see a big change from each little thing you add or subtract in this area. Most of of your training results come from the major lifts done with heavy weights, not the hundreds of reps of glute ham raises, kettlebell swings and farmer bar sidebends you do after your hard work.

However, the cost of doing accessory work is usually low. By cost, I mean that you are hard pressed to tap out your strength to squat and pull or to recover for your next session by doing ab work. You're probably not going to injure anythign doing it. It doesn't take a lot of time. And adding direct ab work MAY help in the long run. It may help your squat and dead form. It may help you avoid a back injury or hernia. I guess the question changes here from "why do direct ab work" to "why not do direct ab work?"


Great post. We actually cut out most direct ab work 3 weeks out from a meet.

It helps with recovery and at that point in time, given the heavy volume of squats and pulls, they are getting plenty of work.


Every joint angle needs to be in balance. That is what you should strive for when programming core and other exercises!!!


You should assess whether or not you have adequate core stability to be "only training your core with squats and deadlifts". I think the answer is - you could get away with training core only with the squat and deadlift ONLY if you already have adequate core strength to be perfoming those movements correctly.

What good will it do to be trying to squat and deadlift for core strength if you lack the core strength to maintain a neutral spine on the deadlift and squat? Deadlifting in complete lumbar flexion isn't going to build any core strength. You'll only make matters worse. I'd say almost everyone would benefit from some direct core training.

While you're at it, why don't you train your core the way it's designed to work? The function of the anterior core isn't just flexion - otherwise you'd probably have two big long hamstrings running up your ventral side. I (and a lot of good strength coaches) think that the main function of the core is to stabilize the lumbar spine. Why not do some isometric core exercises that actually function to stabilize your spine? Planks and rollouts are good examples.

Go read some Mike Robertson, Michael Boyle, and Stuart McGill articles - they will help you a lot.


Why would you not want to train them directly? Are you lazy, or strapped for time, to where you cant throw in a couple sets of abs here and there?

If you are content with being pretty weak, then ya, you dont need direct ab work. Basically if you dont have any expectations of deadlifting more than 300-400 or front squatting more than 200-300 than you probably can get by without ab work.

But if you look at the way powerlifters train, they do direct ab work. Ive seen some westside stuff, and Matt kroc stating that they know their abs are "strong enough" when they are able to do situps for reps with a 45 on their forehead. Around here, hanging leg raises and decline situps are pretty popular. I also like some of the ab circuits from Defranco.


Not to shit on your parade. But nobody on my Olympic Weightlifting team trains abs. We all pull well over 400, we all front squat well over 300. We lift in 77kg - 94kg. I don't think it's right to set up such rigid limitations based on the absence of core work.


just imagine how much you would do if you DID train abs.


Unless you have an imbalance that is stopping you from lifting heavier I don't think direct ab work will have a massive effect on what you squat, pull et al.

However what's the point in not training them?


You're missing the point.

They train abs all the time.


Top level lifters are doing direct ab work. My former coach told everyone to do it as well--hanging leg raises, hypers, roman chair situps, etc. It will benefit your lifting and prevents injury. If you want to be good you do it.


In my past experience everytime I have started to skimp on my ab/core work for any period of time (over two weeks), I know I am opening myself up for injury. Cable abs/hanging leg raises/decline sit ups make the difference between me squating upper 500s to comfortably walking out in the 600s. I find the ab work boring, but it has to be done.


Thanks for your input on what "top level lifters do."

A topic I am certain you have vast experience with.

I will make a note of it.