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Are Squats & Deadlifts Enough To Build Blocky Abs?

Science Or Bro-Science?

Posted by Scott_Herman - April 2nd, 2018

Today, we’re going to be putting to bed a MYTH! This is one of those common sense myths that I just can’t stand hearing bros talk about at the gym. Please, do me a favor, after you’ve read this article and heard what I have to say, the next time you’re in your gym and you hear bros talking about how you can build abs with powerlifting movements, I want you to either send them this link, or explain it to them very SLOWLY.

Powerlifting VS Direct Ab Training – Which Is Better?

When you build a muscle, no matter what muscle you’re doing, think about every exercise you do in your muscle building workouts. What are the two key things that have to happen? You have to get a stretch, and you have to have a flex. If you’re trying to build your biceps, you can’t just sit there and flex as hard as you can in the mirror for 45 minutes, and expect your biceps to grow. In order for those biceps to grow, you need to do a curl. You need to have full extension to get the stretch, and then you have to get a full flexion to flex at the top to work the muscle and spark muscle growth, you NEED that muscle damage.

So why do people think that when it comes to the abs, that the same concepts don’t apply? If you would like to build blocky abs that stick out, you need to have spinal flexion and spinal extension on every single repetition. You need to work the area in order to build that muscle up. When you do powerlifting movements or full body lifts like rack pulls, squats and deadlifts, YES, when you do those exercises you have to flex your entire core, which does include the abs and obliques, in order to stabilize throughout the movement. But you’re only statically working those muscles. In fact, the entire point of doing a squat or a deadlift or a rack pull is to ensure that your core does NOT bend.

I actually did a video with Muscle & Strength comparing the plank to a floor crunch, and which builds bigger abs. When you do a plank, the entire purpose of that movement is to NOT have spinal flexion and extension, because it is a core STRENGTHENING movement. I think people get confused, because when they hear the word core, they automatically assume it’s just the abs, but it’s not, it’s the entire area from front to back.

Why Powerlifting Movements Alone DO NOT Build BLOCKY Abs

Think about when you do a really heavy squat or a really heavy deadlift. If you take it one step further, you still keep your core tight but you put a weight lifting belt on to ensure that you 100% do not get any spinal flexion or extension so that you don’t injure yourself. If you’re doing a deadlift and you go into a full cat-back, you’re going to blow your back out. But when it comes to building muscle, you need to go into that position when you’re on the floor doing a crunch, to get the flexion and extension you need in order to build your abs.

If you didn’t do any ab specific work, you have a low body fat percentage, you eat correctly, you’ve been training your whole life and utilising a lot of these big full body lifts or powerlifting lifts where you’re keeping your core super tight, you will have the outline of your abs. But if you want those abs to POP, to really stick out and to have those blocky abs, you need to train them directly. If you could build blocky abs just from doing those full body lifts, then you should be able to basically walk around all day long flexing your abs as hard as you can, and then have those ab muscles start to build up. It wouldn’t work, and it’s for the same reason I stated at the beginning of this article – you can’t walk around all day long flexing your biceps thinking that will make them grow, they need some direct stimulation.


Let’s put this myth to bed right now. Doing full body lifts, like squats, deadlifts and rack pulls, where the core is heavily engaged – can that help you build abs? Yes, but to a degree. If your body fat percentage is low enough, it will help make the area stronger, and yes the abs will be visible, but they’re only visible because the body fat percentage is low.

If you want your abs to POP, and you want to build those muscles up so that they look BIGGER and FULLER, is that going to happen through simple stimulation of flexing them? No, you will have to do direct ab training in order to get those results. If you do want to build some blocky abs, you can check out my own personal workouts HERE that I have used to really help me train that area!

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