Building the trunk of your body strong protects the spine and stabilizes you during heavy lifting exercises and everyday activities.
Most people think of having six-pack abs as a sign of abdominal strength; rather it has more to do with your diet.
Although, aesthetically six-pack abs look great, it’s more important that your ab exercises are functionally suited and based on your training plan to ultimately allow you to brace more efficiently and lift more weight safer.
Even if you use a high quality weight belt, with weak abs you will have a hard time staying in position and will be more prone to missing a lift and possible injury.
When your abs are fully engaged it protects the back; putting you in an optimal position to lift the most weight possible.
I put together my Top 10 favorite ab exercises that are highly effective for building functional strength for the trunk of your body. If you build a stronger trunk most likely your overall strength will go up.
1. Heavy Squat Holds
This is where you load the bar with 100%+ of your 1 rep max and statically hold it in your squat stance for time. I will usually hold for up to 30 seconds and progressively add more weight overtime to make it more challenging. This would be good to do at the end of a workout.
You can do:
- Back Squat
- Front Squat
- Safety Squat Bar
Heavy Squat holds will force you to brace with your abs hard, along with the rest of your core muscles in the same way you would prior to initiating the squat.
Also, you will gain more confidence with feeling heavy weight on your back, so when you do attempt to squat the weight it will not feel unfamiliar.
2. Front Squat
I realized that front squats, especially beltless paused front squats had my abs super sore unlike anything else the next day.
When you have the weight in a front squat position; the weight is in front of you on your shoulders in a somewhat less stable position than the back squat, it requires a great amount of abdominal bracing to be able to maintain a proper position through-out the movement.
That is why most people can’t front squat as much as they can back squat.
For me, front squats have helped me the most with building a stronger trunk and upper-back, which in return will help transfer to other lifts that require those stabilizers to be strong, so you can progress and get to that next level!
You are probably thinking how do goodmornings build a stronger trunk when it’s primarily a posterior chain dominant movement?
The answer is if you don’t brace hard with your abs when doing goodmornings you will turn into a camel!
For real though, to do goodmornings with a weight that is going to actually give you results will require you to brace; using your abs to help you maintain through a disadvantaged position, because when doing goodmornings having the weight on your back and out in front of your center line of efficiency will really test your trunk to maintain enough pressure to protect your back from completely rounding over.
Brace or buckle!
When I do goodmornings; I do them standing, in my squat or deadlift stance, and I like using the safety squat Bar.
There are many ways to do goodmornings, but for these I am trying not to allow my back to round too much and try to maintain a flat back throughout the movement.
Goodmornings of course will hit the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back really well too.
4. Farmers Walk/ Suitcase Carry
This is a great exercise that will strengthen your abs and specifically your obliques.
Your obliques play a huge role in providing intra-abdominal pressure through heavy-loaded movements giving you added stability.
You can do this exercise with:
- Farmer Walk Handles
The farmers walk exercise is typically done with an equal weight in each hand, but you can also do suitcase carries; this is where you have weight in one hand only and walk for distance or time.
Both ways are very challenging and will provide great results with building your trunk.
5. Ab Pulldown
This is more of an abdominal isolation exercise compared to those above, but works great. This can be done on a cable pulley machine or with a band.
I mostly do these standing in my squat stance; two different ways:
- Reverse Goodmorning Style-Keeping a flat back through bracing hard, pulling with the abs until the torso is parallel with the floor.
- This style is more similar to a bracing pattern when performing the squat by pulling the ribcage down creating intra-abdominal pressure and holding for a few seconds.
You can also do these on your knees, but I only do this if I’m using a lot of weight. Doing abs standing is more specific to most of the strength exercises that I do in my training program(squat and deadlifts).
Also, you can adjust the harness to one side to target your obliques a little more.
6. Ab Wheel
When I first tried this exercise I went to the fitness store excited and got an ab wheel like what I have seen people using on YouTube and thought they were all the same, but no they are not.
Let me tell you, when I first rolled out and tried to comeback the plastic wheel wobbled and cracked. At the time I was around 250lbs, so maybe I was too much for it, but it didn’t have any weight restrictions on the box.
So, I brought it back and told them what happened and they refunded me my money and I decided to take another look at what they had.
I found a beast of a roller called the Ab Carver Pro Roller and knew it would hold up. This ab wheel was a little more expensive than the others, but I have come to find out that you get what you pay for and this one is awesome!
I use the ab wheel almost weekly among some of these other exercises and it’s a challenge every time I do it. It feels like a moving plank and I feel my abs contract big-time.
Give it a try!
7. Leg Raises
These are easy to do and can be done a few different ways:
- Lay on your back and raise your legs until they are sticking straight up towards the sky.
- Hang from a pull-up bar and raise your legs until they are straight forward, or raise to your hands.
Both versions can be progressively loaded with weight to make it more challenging.
Leg raises work the lower abs and hip flexors. In this exercise your abs really work as stabilizers to allow your hip flexors to pull your legs up to the desired position.
This is also a great exercise for helping to release tight lower-back muscles.
8. Straight Leg Sit-ups
Very basic ab exercise, but can be done a couple different ways to make it more challenging:
- On the Floor.
- Use a GHR or Back Extension Machine.
This ab exercise is a must and you can use weight to kick it up a notch if you need to.
Similar to the leg raises this exercise uses the abs as stabilizers and relies heavily on the lower abs and hip flexors to sit the torso up.
A lot of people do planks for time; bracing enough to stay in position, but the way I like to do them is RKC style; where you try to squeeze your entire body super tight from head-to-toe.
Side planks can be done for the obliques.
Planks are great for mimicking your bracing pattern when performing heavy squats and deads. This exercise ingrains the feeling you want to achieve before and during the compound lifts.
10. Oblique Twists
I like standing oblique twists; where you attach a band around a fixed post and twist your trunk away from the post. These can be done with a cable pulley machine if you can get it in a range that will allow you to target the obliques with a full twist.
You can also do these sitting with the back at a 45-degree angle with a weight in your hands out in front of you twisting your torso from side-to-side.
The obliques play a huge role in giving you stability and helping you to build abdominal pressure that will help you lift heavier weight safer.
A Strong Trunk Will Make You Solid to the Core!
My plan was to share some of the best abdominal exercises that I have found that work for me.
Overlooking ab training and forgetting to do it could be the weak link in your chain of progression, so if you are stalled on your squat and deadlift try adding in some of these ab exercises to help build up your trunk.
Make it a point to train your abs at least twice a week!
To be honest, there is no best ab exercise. It comes down to what works for you and has the most carry-over to your sport.
In general, most of these ab exercises will cover all of your abdominal and core muscles; proving to be great exercises that will make you more stable with better posture and positioning throughout your lifting.
Thanks for reading and if you have any question or comments please leave them below.
Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.-Dalai Lama
All the best,