Before we dive in, let’s get one thing straight. Shredded abdominal muscles don’t come from any particular exercise. The multitude of ab gimmicks out there aren’t going to bring them out either. Attaining visible abs is simply a result of diet and cardio. If you can do 200 crunches a day but if you’re having pizza and beer every night, all you’ll ever see is a well-rounded gut.
Now that we’ve got that clear, let’s talk about ways to strengthen your abdominal muscles. Many people think that endless crunches, sit ups or targeted ab machines will do the trick. But the best way to really build muscle in your stomach region is by powerlifting exercises. In theory, every exercise you perform in the gym will work your abs as you should be keeping your stomach region tight. These muscles act as a stabilizer allowing you to focus on proper form and also preventing lower back strain or injury.
A few movements that will really work your abs are squats, deadlifts and bench presses; the three main powerlifting exercises. You’re entire body is working to some degree during these lifts, especially with squats and deadlifts. You should be keeping your stomach and actually your entire body tight during these lifts. These are powerful lifts and you’re pushing a lot of weight, overloading your muscles and core. I’ve also noticed my abs being forced into contraction when doing cable pushdowns or rope extensions for triceps.
I don’t advise against performing targeted exercises for your abs. However, if you’re getting frustrated because you can’t see them, doing more exercises for them may not necessarily be the answer. It’s more than likely that you need to adjust your diet and cardio. The problem many hard core trainers face is the slight loss of strength when taking in less calories and performing more cardio. You ultimately have to decide what’s more important. For those of you who are deathly afraid of being skinny (I’m one of these people as I was a smaller kid growing up) you may need to find a happy medium so that you can be muscular and strong, but without your gut hanging over your belt. This requires a disciplined diet and cardio regimen but not quite as strict as if you were aiming for a shredded six-pack.