T Nation

Stronger (& Bigger?) Abs


I'm well aware that abs are made in the kitchen and not in the gym and all that jazz, but I'm low enough body fat for my abs to be visible, and I want to make them stronger, with bigger being a possible side effect. What are the best ab exercises?

My current routine is this:
Standing cable crunches
Hanging leg raises (forward only)
Wood chops
Pallof press
Wheel jackknife pushups


Do some weighted pulldown abs.


The first exercise I said I did is that, except with just a crunch motion as opposed to a full situp motion like in that video, I guess I'll try that next time.





Generally speaking, for ab strength, you're going to focus on exercises that let you add a bunch of external resistance and work near-failure in the 4-8 rep range.

Cable crunches (one-arm and two-arm), full contact twists, and medicine ball slams (though it doesn't fall into the rep range I mentioned, explosive exercises are great for strength) are some of my favorites.

That's not a routine at all. That's a list of random exercises, given completely out of context.

What days are you doing each exercise?

What sets and reps are you using for them?

What else are you doing when you step into the gym on each day (exercises, sets, and reps)?

What's your current height/weight?

What do you squat, deadlift, and overhead press?


Does the use of one or two arms really make a significant difference?

I suppose I could just go and find out myself, but that would require me to actually work my abs more often.


Yes. If you're pulling with one arm, that means one side of your body is applying force and the other side is not. This requires more balancing and stabilizing.
Try this:
Do a suitcase deadlift with dumbells in each hand.
Do the same but only carry a dumbell in one hand.


The one-arm cable crunch lends itself more to rotating crunches. It would be pretty hard to mimic a "standard" crunch with one arm, but the benefits of unilateral training (increased oblique load, improving each sides' strength individually, checking/addressing imbalances, etc.) do still carryover somewhat when it comes to working abs.

But if the goal is to simply improve ab strength, I'd prioritize two-arm cable crunches, since you can use a heavier load, and maybe include one-arm crunches occasionally.

The thing is, though, the stabilization effects of unilateral loading don't really apply to trunk flexion exercises (like crunches) because you don't want stabilization.

That said, one-arm dumbbell squats/deadlifts can be pretty brutal. For even more "fun", try holding the dumbbell in one hand in the rack position (resting the thumbside on the front of the shoulder).


I noticed pallof press is the only exercise you're using that involves preventing movement by using your core muscles. I used to do TONS of hanging leg raises, crunches, and other movements of that sort. I've found almost NO carryover in terms of core stability (which is obviously tremendously important). I can probably do 25 hanging leg raises with legs completely extended, but still have some crazy lumbar flexion on the deadlift. Basically my point is that if you don't have good levels of core stability, it's pretty important to train for that.

I'd highly recommend rollouts as a good exercise for core stability. I would also suggest using a progression from simpler exercises to rollouts unless you already have sufficient core stability (eg. planks/weighted planks to rollouts on a stability ball to rollouts on a medicine ball to rollouts with a barbell).

Also, if you're really looking for a challenge, try one-arm dumbbell overhead squats as a good exercise for lateral anti-flexion in the frontal plane. Seems like the exercises you described above are all either saggital or transverse, and most invovle creating movement rather than preventing it, so those might do you some good.