I have been doing the Strong Lifts program for a year and a half at least before COVID closed all of the gyms. The program has been working very well; I have gained muscular mass, look good, and set PR's. Yet, when the gyms closed 4 months ago, I noticed that my form, especially for bodyweight squats, was substandard in two areas: hip flexibility and ab strength. I know that the abs need to remain isometrically strong in all of the 5 lifts except for bench as they provide safety and support during the exercise.

While I want to gain strength, I also want to do them safely. I am concerned that my abs may be too weak and will collapse involuntarily when I do the lifts. Thus, I think I need to concentrate on gaining ab strength before joining a gym (as I can't join my old one). On the one hand, a comment made here indicates that my abs would get stronger in proportion to the need for them to be stable during the lifts. On the other, I am still concerned with form.

So, what would you recommend to do? Which ab exercises are the best for the stability required in Strong Lifts? How would I know that my abs are "strong enough" to handle the lifts? (I plan just to focus on squat, as I do this most often and it is easier than thinking about Overhead Press, Rows, Squat, and Deadlift)


  • How many sit-ups, planks, or Russian V-Twists do you think you would need to do in order to stabilize your “core” in a 500 pound squat? There simply is no better “core” builder than the exercises you’re doing. Thor holds the world record in the deadlift. You know what he does to build his abs during the deadlifts? More deadlifts. Not planks.
    – Frank
    Commented Jul 8, 2020 at 7:52
  • I would think the goblet squat. It forces you to use the abs and to push your knees out.
    – Andy
    Commented Jul 8, 2020 at 9:17
  • Update: Also see this post fitness.stackexchange.com/questions/15463/…
    – phargart
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 22:05

2 Answers 2


For lifting, the most important function of abdominal strength is to provide intra-abdominal pressure to counteract sheer and compressional forces on the lumbar spine. This is performed primarily by the transversus abdominus, the diaphragm, and the pelvic floor complex (sometimes known as the pelvic diaphragm), and assisted by the rectus abdominis and internal obliques. These muscles collectively form a functional unit that compresses the organs of the abdominal cavity. The three former ones can only be activated through posture and breathing, and they should therefore be trained in conjunction with lifting.

Abdominal pressure is produced through simultaneous contraction of the three major muscle groups—transversus abdominis, diaphragm, and pelvic diaphragm—which push inward, downward, and upward, respectively. Without cooperation from all of them, the potential for intra-abdominal pressure is limited. Hence, our objective should be to ensure that they are all engaged during our lifts.

In order to activate these ‘core’ muscles maximally, the spine must remain in a ‘neutral’ position. Hold a tall and erect posture before commencing. This aligns the spine and engages the transversus abdominis and pelvic diaphragm. (The abdominals should reflexively tighten and draw inward, and the muscles of the pelvic floor should contract discernibly.) Draw a breath in, relaxing the abdominals to allow for full and natural expansion of the lungs. (The belly should rise, not the chest.) Then, holding the breath, draw the abdominals forcedly towards the spine before commencing the squat or deadlift. Force your breath against a closed glottis at the beginning of the concentric phase, then exhale gradually after passing the most difficult portion or ‘sticking point’ of the lift.

For lower-load and higher-repetition lifts, the breath can be drawn in gradually during the eccentric phase, and forced out gradually from the beginning of the concentric phase. This permits a more continuous and cyclical lift whilst nevertheless approximating the valsalva manoeuvre.

It is important to note that these requirements directly contradict two common lifting practices: hyperextension of the lumbar spine by “lifting the chest”, and forcing the abdominals outwards. Other than disallowing activation of the transversus abdominis, the former increases risk of herniation of the anterior of the annulus fibrosis by loading the intervertebral discs unevenly. And the latter limits the amount of intra-abdominal pressure that can be developed.

Lifting, itself, can be supplemented with isometric training of the rectus abdominus and internal obliques, which support the transversus abdominis in resisting and hence maintaining intra-abdominal pressure. Bridges, roll-outs, straight-arm pull-downs, hanging leg raises, or any other similar movement in which the spine is loaded in its neutral position are all good choices.

I hope that is helpful.


Just do the valsava manouver for time or repetitions.....that's the only thing actually activating the abdomen to some extent during squats and deadlift. And the good thing is, a valsava maneuver while lifting a ton is as heavy as lifting 0 weight for the abdomen...because the weight doesn't go on the abdomen. This because the only thing increasing abdominal pressure is the abdominal wall not a barbell hanging in front of you.

That's why people like hafthor or Eddie hall who only ever do squats and deadlift struggle doing a few sit ups and crunches...but hey, seems the steroids are giving them big abs, you should try them too as suggested by the user Frank!

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