Over the last few years, the idea of doing direct work for your abs has dropped in popularity, while the (mistaken) belief that exercises like squats and deadlifts provide all the stimulation your core muscles need has become widespread.
For many, the core is just another name for your abs. But the term actually refers to the much larger collection of muscles that stabilise your spine, extending all the way from your shoulders to your hips.
Squats and deadlifts do work many of the core muscles. But it’s mainly the ones in your back. When researchers measured muscle activation in the abdominal muscles of trained lifters, they found squats and deadlifts – even when performed using extremely heavy weights – didn’t hit the rectus abdominis (AKA the six-pack muscle) particularly hard.
Some people are genetically gifted in the abs department and don’t need to do a lot of direct abdominal work. But unless you’re lucky enough to be one of them, squats, deadlifts and presses won’t be enough. You’ll need to train the rectus abdominis directly to earn a beach-worthy six-pack.
The best abs moves
One of the best ways to train your abs is also one of the simplest: exercises that involve preventing movement rather than producing it. During the plank, for example, your abdominal muscles have to work hard to resist spinal extension (arching your back).
Not only do these exercises produce very high levels of muscle activation in the abs, they also do so without repeatedly bending your spine, which has the potential to damage spinal discs. The result? A more challenging workout without increasing your risk of a bad back down the line. Win win.