T Nation

Lower Back/Abdominal Strength


I've read from a few different coaches on this site that recommend an equal push/pull strength ratio (Row as much as you bench). My question is: is there something similar for lower back to abdominals? What should the ratio be?

I know I have weak abs compared to my lower back strength, but I'm looking for numbers to shoot for.


Interesting idea... how are you going to measure the ratio?


I'd be pretty interested in that myself. I deadlift a lot and have only recently been doing any direct ab work. My assumption is that the imbalance is what causes my back pain.



My guess would be back pain is caused by tight hamstrings

Also, when you deadlift and squat heavy your abs are also getting quite a workout too.

Still an interesting idea though, let's see if someone can shed some more light.


Hmm, hyperextend as much as you can sit-up?


I'd like to hear Mike Roberson or Eric Cressey talk about this, as this would relate to general hip mobility and stability.


i've never understood where people get the idea that deadlifting and squatting is somehow a serious ab workout. abs need direct work.

hanging tucks, exercise ball crunches, leg raises, decline bench crunches, hanging pikes, etc....

can you imagine how OUT OF SHAPE someone would have to be to get sore abs from squatting or deadlifting? talk about shitty conditioning.


guaranteed most people have SERIOUS imbalances between their abs and their lower backs.

i know i do, i was one of those idiots who thought ab work wasn't necessary for years... i thought abs were all diet.

fuck is that the stupidest thing ever. well, live and learn. i'm hitting my abs hard, now.


Testing/developing predominantly spinal flexion strength (i.e in a situp) seems against the ideas McGill has mentioned in his articles here.

As mentioned previously, EC and MR might be able to have some good input on the topic.


I don't think you can really assign a ratio using poundages for abs and lower back (like crunches with a 25 lb plate and back hyper extensions with a 25 lb plate) because its sort of a tough thing to measure, as there are not many ways to use weights equally on abs and lower back.

I think the key is just to do an all-around core workout. While squats and deadlifts do require good overall core strength, the core has more of a general stabilization role. T

his is sort of like if you start benching workouts after a long layoff, your lats may get sore as they're working to handle their scapular stabilization function. While I never really lose conditioning in my abs, when I first start a really heavy squat cycle, the first few days I'll notice some soreness in my abs as they're getting used to helping support much heavier weights on my shoulders again.

But your core does need direct work to really see benefits. I think that this is mainly to counter most people's poor posture in the rest of their lifts.

The majority of people allow their pelvis to have too much anterior rotation. This is primarily caused by tight hip flexors and weak abdominal's that can't pull up on the front of the pelvis enough.

The hip flexors are one of those muscles that tightens with lack of conditioning, pulling on the back crests of your pelvis and lower spine, causing your hips to tilt forward. Your abdominals are the kind that loosen with lack of conditioning, allowing this hip-tilting to happen.

This hip flexor tightness/abdominal weakness also causes your gluteals to become inhibited, and the hamstrings to become overstressed and tight as a result, contributing to lower back rounding at the bottom of a squat and deadlift.

So there are some key points that I like to keep in mind when developing my core workouts and for just core health in general:

1.) Generally, you should try to work everything in equal amounts. This is the closest thing to a bench/row ratio idea. Its sort of like the old guidelines of "for every set of bench work, you should do a set of rowing work as well". Your core muscles are designed to work together in any complex lift or athletic movement, so IMO you should also work them out together.

My core workouts include equal parts abs, back, obliques, gluteal and rotational work, usually done in a circuit type of activity. I use a nice compact circuit that takes about 15-20 minutes. It's sort of like medicine for my core. Anytime my lower back is aching, a few doses of my core medicine and it feels all better.

2.) The goal is to achieve a balanced, neutral pelvic position. In many cases that means correcting any lagging areas, and for most people, that means increased rectus abdominus and tranversus abdominus work. So if this is your problem, I would do an overall circuit, but add some more abdominal work until you're ab strength catches up to your other core muscles.

A good way to measure this is though your pelvic posture. Check out the Neanderthal No More series http://www.T-Nation.com/findArticle.do?article=315nean2. Part 2 gives a postural analysis that should help you diagnose your pelvic posture.

3.) Remember when doing any kind of leg lifts (hanging leg raises, knee ups, etc.) to make sure that your pelvis is posteriorly rotated by concentrating on contracting abs. This is essentially what the often-repeated mental cue of "abdominal hollowing" is trying to get you to do.

Although that cue is a bit misleading (it causes people to think correspondingly "round out my lower back", which is generally bad during a lift), its purpose is to combat that anterior pelvic tilt. This insures any leg-lift movement is not being dominated by your hip flexors and that your abs are activated and resisting the hip flexor's anterior rotation on the pelvis.

4.) Concentrate on proper hip positioning during all other lifting. For example, don't allow too much hyper extending or rounding of your lower back during squats or deadlifts. Also, when doing overhead (seated or standing) movements, keep your hips and back balanced, concentrating on keeping your entire core tight.

Don't allow that huge lower back arch lots of people get when tey're doing military. These will help you prevent core imbalances and injuries.


I'd like to comment on that. Coaches on this site agree that the abdominals do not need direct work, IN SOME CASES. It depends on how much your lifts actually involve your abs.

Let's break down one session where abs do not require "diret work". Don't focus on balance just think of the exercises that can be involved in a given session.

Hybrid Move
Renegade Row
DB Swing
One-Legged Weight Front Squat
Stability Ball Push-up
Standing DB Military Press
Wood Chop

While on the topic of imbalances, I'll type an excerpt from the ISSA's "Fitness The COmplete Guide" Edition 8.1.5, Fredereick C. Hatfield PhD:

"The Pelvis: Even more common among bodybuilders and atheletes is a forward tilt of the pelvis, which results when the upper pelvis drops forward, resulting in ecessive arching of the lower spine. If this is coupled with a slight lateral tilt of the pelvis, there is torsional force from the twisting of the spinal column. When this occurs, one hip socket as well as one side of the hip will be futher forwards than the other.

In this case, the hipjoint flexor muscle will be shortened and the lower back muscles will be tightened" and goes on to say "However, note that the vertebral column is flexible and often sompensates for any pelvic faults bu changing position in corresponding planes, so that in a well-muscled person these changes can be easily overlooked. An increase in forward tilt of the pelvis in relation to the adaptive shortening of the hip flexors and the lower trunk extensors upset the normal antagonism in the forward and backward direction.

But this antagonism must be brought into a balance action for the best performance when lifting weights. In this case, shortening the abdominal muscles in front and the gluteal muscles in back is essential to attaining the best position of the pelvis in relation to the trunk."

So in a nutshell to make sure there are no imbalances in the pelvic area it doesn't just depend on the lower back and abs, it always involves the glutes. When they describe shortening of the abdominal muscles, it does not necessarily mean strengthining w/heavy weights. A lot of people think you need to use weights on your abs, when Franco Columbo (and I) never used weights on abdominal movements and we both achieved six-pack/eight-packs (his was better than mine).

See the thing is, it's not so much growing rather than making them be more "tight". The best way I can describe it is how it was described to me in an article: Micheal Catarevas (Editor of Men's Workout) said after acheiving a 6-pack "you've shrunken your midsection to bring out the ab definition. Other muscles are built up; abs are tapered down."

If I'm wrong in any way, I'm sorry and I'm only going by what I read from credible sources.


Squats and deadlifts are tremendous ab exercises. I don't care how "in shape" you are, if you squat and deadlift heavy without a belt, you're going to feel it in your abs.



The main causes of lower back pain are lack of flexibility, not proper muscle balance, or the discs in the back grinding against one another (this one normally comes with age or injuries)

The quicker fixes for this can include a new mattress, making sure your lower back, abs, and hamstrings are balanced and flexible, and being conscious of the stresses placed on the lower back. The back is a very complex thing, because it is capable of great strength, but it does not take much at all to really injure it.

Hope this helps a little.


In my previous post, I said that the core needs direct work. I think I should qualify that. I think that in most cases, some direct work is needed to correct any imbalances. But, yes, in some cases, you don't need direct work if you are well balanced and involving your core enough in your workouts.

I agree that you can have a program full of complex lifts enough to not have to do any direct core work. For the most part, all I do are complex lifts: squats, DL, Olys, lots of overhead stuff (all while standing instead of seated). This has kept my core plenty strong. Its become just like any other muscle, where its just maintained most of the time and I focus on it every now and then.

Its like biceps; I almost never do direct biceps work, but my various pulls hit my biceps plenty hard. If I ever want to build up my biceps considerably, then I add some direct bicep work.

For the most part when I do direct core work now, its one of two situations: I'm trying to focus on some rotational excercise to improve an athletic movement, or its to rehab or counteract an injury or unequal acitivity. For example, if I'm playing a lot of golf, I'll do more core circuits to counteract the unequal core work given by the golf swing. Or if I tweaked my lower back or hip in soccer or something, I'll do my core ciruit to help re-balance my flexibility.


Thanks for all the help input you've given. I found an article by Don Alessi about Ab strength (Last question, 2/3 of the way down).
However, according to his test, my ab strength is perfectly fine. Well, my pelvic tilt strength test is fine. This brings up two questions:

  1. I passed the 'advanced bodybuilder' test. Should I use this as a correct evaluation even though I'm not a bodybuilder? I want ab strength to improve my squat and DL.

  2. Maybe I should throw my numbers out there for you guys to look at. On a 45 degree degree situp bench (legs anchored at the low position), I can crank out 15-18 reps with a 25 lb weight on my chest. I can get the same amount of reps on a 45 degree back extension holding 70 lbs to my chest. How does this hold up to: each other, and to you guys (this isn't a pissing contest, I just want to know if I really need to kick my ass into gear ab-wise.)



  1. -I wouldn't go by any test, because they're all inaccurate, but I would go by an evalutaion from an accomplished certified trainer w/a degree (or some who shows great knowledge in posture imbalances) or doctor. I read over that link that you posted and it stated that Deadlift and Back Squat should be approx. the same. However, try telling that to a healthy power lifter (I think it was directed more towards olympic lifters).

-Ab strength will not improve your DL and Squat [completely] simply because you're abs are not contracting. What you want is all around stability, and this starts from breathing to your shoulders to your abs to your posture to your lower back to your glutes to your quads to your calves (believe it or not they actually help with posture).

To build core stability you might want to try doing moves like the standing DB military press, squat, deadlift, renegade row, t-push-up, stability ball military press, wood chop, etc. to get your core to play a more functional role in stabilizing your body.

-what makes you think that that is an accurace comparison?
-I suggests trying to find a posture article on here by Cressey and Robertson to find out if you're really f|_|cked up, and read the articles by Dave Tate on Periodization. Oh yeah, and keep exercising--IT GIVES YOU BIGGER WOOD!


Yea, it's a popular little trend right now. It's a shame that it makes very little sense....


Sure it makes sense. You're not supposed to hold back on your bench because last week you were able to push 2,5 kg more than you rowed.

But you're not supposed to do chest en biceps workouts 3 times a week either. Like about 20% of the people that "train" at my gym.


It doesn't make sense to me either. The thinking behind this has to be a fear of imbalance, but to have the numbers be equal seems like overdoing it.

If a person's seated row is anywhere near their bench, then you can pretty much rest assured they don't have a poetentially dangerous posture problem.



The difference between my cable row and my bench is about 100 pounds. Same for my bent over row with a barbell. But I'm pretty sure my ab strength is good... I'm going to definitely do some research on this one.