How to get great abs – Part 3

In the last two articles, we looked at how to uncover the much-sought-after abdominal muscles from under excess layers of fat before exploring the best isolation exercises – and how to train with them – to create greater ‘six pack’ definition.

This entry will provide the best examples of the basic exercises that complement isolation techniques to help form a stomach admired by even the most muscularly defined greek gods.


The science

Complementary exercises…or essential exercises?

I used the word ‘complementary’ to show that when basic exercises are paired with isolation exercises targeted for the abdominals, we find the most efficient and successful solution to obtaining great abs. However, complementary shouldn’t be taken to mean subsidiary. Moreover, it is the basic exercises that provide the foundation and building block for a strong core.


The exercises

The basic exercises I am talking about are whole body movements that require core strength and balance to perform correctly. When these full body exercises are performed, they recruit many different large and small muscles to make the main movement and to stabilise the body. In technical terms, these compound exercises recruit agonist, antagonist, synergist and fixator muscles. Working all the muscle types provides you with a stronger and fitter body, burns more calories and enables you to perform other exercises more efficiently too. Importantly, better body stabilisation will also help prevent injury as you get used to performing movements that overload and challenge the current ability levels of your body.



When you squat with a barbell on your upper back, or perform a front squat with the barbell on your upper chest, your body is fighting against being compressed into the floor. As you control the motion in the downward phase, your abdominals are providing a huge amount of support – mainly isometrically (without contraction) – for the weight that is being taken on your legs. However, when you drive through your heels and push away from the floor to straighten your legs once more, the whole core area, especially the lower abs, contract to help force the body back to standing. This puts a good stress on the abdominals and with repetition provides an excellent workout for the abs without necessarily solely focussing on them for this exercise.



It’s a similar motion and explanation to with squats. The deadlift is an exercise performed when you squat down – torso as vertical as you can, chest and head facing forwards, heels into the ground – grasp a barbell in your hands and then stand up through your heels picking up the barbell with you. As opposed to the squat, it is this initial phase of this exercise that provides the abdominal contraction and the lowering that focuses on stabilisation. Because of the position of the barbell (below you) and because of the fact that it is not supported on anything unlike the squat which has the upper back or chest to hold the weight, gravity works a little harder which provides greater work on the abdominals. In relative terms, the deadlift is slightly more strenuous on the abdominals than the squat, but only just…and it certainly isn’t a good reason not to do both! But be wary of doing both of them in the same workout as, unless you have great training experience, this could tire your body out quite quickly and may make you susceptible to injury later in the workout as your form loosens.



These are fantastic for the abs. You can really focus your attention on tensing and contracting the abdominal muscles when you pull yourself up to the bar. To make an even greater focus, when you hang from the bar, bend your knees behind you and bring your heels up as close to your glutes as possible. Then when you start to pull yourself you, bring the knees forward – still with bent legs – and up towards your stomach. As well as helping to stabilise the main pull up action, the movement of the legs performs a hanging knee raise too, stretching your abs fully when you bring the heels back providing a greater contraction when you bring the knees forward. The only problem is that if you can’t do pull ups quite yet, then you can’t just lower the weight as you can with squats or deadlifts to get the same benefits.



The Olympic weightlifting move that brings together the deadlift and similar muscles to the pull up to create a strenuous full body move. The barbell starts on the floor. You deadlift the bar up and then draw it very quickly upwards in a vertical plane up your body to sit on the upper part of your chest. This movement is explosive and needs the abdominals to be tight and strong to allow the body to work through the motion safely and efficiently. Once you are in this position with your hands underneath the bar, elbows pointing forwards in a similar position to a front squat, you then look to explode the bar upwards quickly above your head until your arms are straight. This explosive movement pushing the bar above your head again requires great strength and support originating at the core. Of course, when you start out on this exercise, you start with a lower weight – one that will help you master the correct technique before overloading your body. But once it’s mastered and you can start challenging your power, explosiveness and strength with heavier weights, the core will kick in to make a well rounded fit body.



Yes you would think it uses just the legs, but as the old song goes: “the hip bone’s connected to the…”. It may seem obvious but the movement of your legs moves your whole body as each section interacts with the other to change its position. When the leg moves back and forwards, the obliques and abdominals on that side are stretched back and then contracted when you bring the leg forward. When walking, this happens very gently and doesn’t strain the abdominals too much. Having said this, if you’ve had a workout focussed solely on abs the day before, and then you walk or run a lot the next day, even if this is done gently you may feel your stomach doesn’t feel tight and strong but rather loose; this is because of the impact that leg movement has on the already tired abdominal muscles. But if you want to get the most out of the exercise…then sprint. The powerful movement of drawing your legs and arms back and forth demands that the body is stabilised and that the muscles of the torso and upper leg work powerfully to bring the legs back, down, forward and drive you onwards. This creates the a stress on the body in a similar way to the clean and press or deadlift.

These are essential motions to forming a fit body. They are exercises that will help everyday actions as well as increase sporting ability and performance. They also, for our focus here, provide a fantastic base for a strong abdominal section. You can form a six pack by performing these alone, with the right diet. But for the best abs you can get, combine them with Part 2’s isolation exercises. However, if you are not in the ‘within range’ category for seeing your abs as described in Part 1, then pair these exercises with the ones in Part 1 and it’ll help you shed fat quicker and start increasing your all round muscular performance. Once the abs are visible, you will have a stronger base to sculpt the six pack from having already practiced these exercises previously.

Get six packing.

Chris James – Director –  Head of Fitness and Nutrition at Fitness Body Pro

Chris James – Director –  Head of Fitness and Nutrition at Fitness Body Pro

Chris James
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