A lot of trainers will tell you if you want to work your abs, just do deadlifts and squats. I’m not sure what BS research this was based off of, but the EMG activity in the squat and deads are pretty low for the abs (rectus abdominis) and obliques (internal and external). EMG is a measure of muscle activation, and if you want high EMG activity in the abs, you have to choose exercises that target them.
There are two ways to produce muscle mass in the abs: high volume (high reps and sets) and training into muscular failure (also post workout protein but we are talking about training here). Here are some cool variations with their coaching cues for you to try over the weekend. Aim for 24 sets over the week with probably ½ of those sets working to failure. Here are 10 of the most underrated core weight lifting exercises:
TK Cable Crunch – This is by far my favorite. This variation has been done wrong for ages and most recently been attacked because there is too much movement at the low back. Most of the movement actually comes from rounding the upper back. Think of dumping the top half of your torso over the bottom. It’s basically a upper back rounded sit up.
Supine Leg Lowering – The goal here is to not just keep contact with the small of your low back to the ground, but to actively SMASH your low back into the ground. Everytime your back lifts off the ground, return to the start position.
Hanging Leg Raise Bent Knee – The goal here is to control both the raising and lowering, and maintain a posterior pelvic tilt on the bottom position.
Hanging Leg Raise Straight Legs – If the bent knee version is too easy, try this. If you are swinging back and forth, this is too advanced for you.
Reverse Curl Ups – Maintain the same angle at your knees and actively rotate your pelvis underneath you to produce the movement.
Toes to Sky – This is an advanced version of the reverse curl up. The goal here is to drive your pelvis to rotate underneath you to perform the movement. If you do this right, you’ll feel this deep in the front abs.
Side Plank Finders – The problem with regular side planks is most people don’t feel the exercise localized in the obliques. With this variation, you move your hips down, up, and side to side to find which position your obliques contract the hardest in.
TRX Side Plank – Make sure to drop your hips out in this movement to get the strongest activation.
Half Kneeling Band ABCs – Make sure you lock the elbows out here and keep the inside of your foot on the inside of the knee.
TK Car Drivers – Squeeze your butt, and just like the above, flex your triceps to lock your elbows out
Plate Lifts/Chops – Picture a plane of glass about 6 inches in front of you. Focus on driving from your oblique. Great to add into a metabolic finisher.