Learn > Do Deadlifts Work Your Abs? Yes, Here’s How

Do Deadlifts Work Your Abs? Yes, Here’s How

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The pursuit to build a set of washboard abs has been trending ever since the rise of aesthetics era, around the second decade of the new millennium. 

The barbell deadlift is often used as a means to build abs, or it’s avoided altogether from the fear of the midsection getting ‘too big’.

For this reason, we’ve covered what the abs are, where they’re located and the movements they make. 

Moving on, we’ve covered whether the barbell deadlifts help build the abs, and if they have any influence in waist size. 

We then discuss if you need to focus on the abs with separate exercises, other than the barbell deadlift. 

If you decide to take on a separate abs intervention, we’ve highlighted 3 exercises with a step by step ‘How to’ guide. 

Towards the end, we answer some frequently asked questions to reach more of our audience. To finalize, we’ve jotted down a take home message. 

What Are the Abs? 

When we think about the abs, the first thing that pops to mind is the rectus abdominis. 

This is better known as the 6 pack muscle located at the front of the mid-section, as shown in the image. 

This helps to control flexion and rotation of the spine, formally known as forward tilt and twisting (1)

The abs are central to deadlifts

As this muscle group is the most desired amongst our visitors, it will be the main focus of this article. 

The abs are one of many core stability muscle groups that are activated during major lifts, like the barbell squat and deadlift. 

The other muscles that make up the abs are the external and internal obliques. Most gym newbies and outsiders don’t even realize that these muscles even exist. 

The external and internal obliques run down the side of the mid-section, as shown in this image. 

These two muscles come together to aid in bending the spine forwards, twisting the trunk, bending side to side and creating intra-abdominal pressure, more simply known as bracing the stomach (1).  

Within the internal obliques you can find the transverse abdominis muscle, which is an important contributor towards bracing and stabilizing the mid-section (1)

Do Deadlifts Work Your Abs?

Now we have a good grasp of the location and the movement of the abs, the question is do deadlifts help with abs? 

The answer to this is YES! But not significant enough for you to get excited about. 

When we break down the biomechanics of a safe and effective deadlift, we do not see any of the movements mentioned in the previous section. 

The muscles surrounding the abs are likely to contract isometrically, to keep the spine in a safe and neutral position, but the main contributor to this during the deadlift is the erector spinae (2)

If you take a look at this image, the erector spinae runs down the back. 

In fact a 2020 literature review by established researchers Oliva-Lozano and Muyer (2), looked at the effects of electromyography (muscle activation) during a variety of exercises. 

The review suggested that the deadlift doesn’t target the abs a great deal as there is hardly any forward tils. 

Any exercise that demanded a forwards tilt had shown to work the abs the best, based on a collection of documented research. 

Coming back to the deadlift, having to maintain a neutral spine position, the barbell deadlift was amongst the top 3 exercises for drawing in the erector spinae muscle group according to multiple studies in the literature review. 

Do Deadlifts Make Your Waist Bigger?

As we have come to learn, the deadlift does not even target the abs that well, let alone make them ‘too big’.

Waist size is influenced by two factors. The first one being hip joint placement, which is purely genetic. Narrower hip joints give you a better chance of having a smaller and more aesthetic waist. 

Do Deadlifts Thicken Your Waist? (No, Here’s Why)

The second factor is body fat around the midsection, which can be modified through diet and activity levels. 

Should You Focus On The Abs Separately? 

It’s debatable whether the abs can be modified. Many believe that losing body fat around the midsection is the only way of achieving that ripped 6 pack. 

With the current data and my personal experience, I would say that it’s worth trying some exercises that may improve the appearance and mobility of the midsection.  

Only then, should you work on losing body fat through diet and higher activity levels, but that’s a whole another rant altogether. 

For this reason, I’ve given my top exercises for the abs in the following section. 

Best 3 Ab Exercises to Strengthen Your Core

1. Sit-Ups

The sit ups are a frequently used exercise which work the abs equally.

If you’re interested, follow the 6 step guide below. 

STEP 1:  Find a clean and open surface to perform the sit ups 

STEP 2: Lay flat on your back and bend at the knees. With the feet flat on the ground pointing forward. This is your starting position.

STEP 3: Place your hands besides your ears. Ensure you’re not arching the neck. Take a deep breath and drive the trunk forward via the hips, without putting too much tension on the spine.

STEP 4: Slowly lower the trunk back to the ground. Repeat.

2. Bicycle 

The bicycle exercise is a great all round abs builder, ever targeting the external and internal obliques from rotating the spine. 

Here’s how you perform it. 

STEP 1:  Find a clean and open surface to perform the bicycle 

STEP 2: Lay flat on your back and bend at the knees. With the feet flat and pointing forward.

STEP 3: Place your hands besides your ears. Take a deep breath and drive the left upper toward the chest

STEP 4: At the same time, twist the trunk to touch knee with the right elbow and straighten the right leg.

STEP 5: Alternate the legs in continues in a bicycle type movement.

3. Ab Crunches 

The ab crunch is a great exercise to strengthen the midsection. 

I’ve put some steps below, you want to give it a try. 

STEP 1:  Find a clean and open surface to perform the ab crunches 

STEP 2: Lay flat on your back and bend at the knees. With the feet flat and pointing forward.

STEP 3: Place your hands besides your ears. You can also place them at the back of your head.

STEP 4: Raise the upper legs to bring the knees. Come in line with the lower part of the abs 

STEP 5: Now you are in position to start, take a take breath and raise the trunk with the intention of the elbows to touch the knees 

STEP 6: Lower the trunk back to the ground. Repeat.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you get abs from deadlifts?

Deadlifts can certainly contribute towards getting abs, but I wouldn’t use them specifically for that reason. Deadlifts should be used as a lower body builder. 

Do deadlifts work the lower abs?

The deadlifts will work the core as a whole, which includes the rectus abdominis (6 pack). Although, the most pronounced core muscle group during this lifting is the erector spinae of the back. 

Do deadlifts build abs too much?

Certainly not! The deadlift doesn’t even work the abs that much, let alone build them ‘too much’

Is training abs bad for the spine?

At this present time there is not enough evidence to suggest that training abs can damage the spine. I wouldn’t recommend pulling the neck up during the sit ups as this may flex the neck too much and cause any injury, either skeletal muscle or spinal (3) which does occur. 

Take Home Message 

It probably didn’t come as a surprise to learn that the abs are found at the front of the midsection. 

We’ve expanded on that knowledge by discussing their movement actions and surrounding muscles. 

Now can you tell me if the same ab movements are involved in the deadlift? 

The answer is NO! 

I can’t deny that the deadlift is a great exercise, but not for the abs. The dominant core muscle group during the deadlift is the erector spinae of the back. So as the deadlift isn’t a good abs builder, it certainly won’t make the waist ‘too big’. 

Waist size determined by the skeletal frame and body fat, for the most part. For this reason, a separate abs workout might be useful. 3 of my ‘go to’ Exercises are the situps, bicycle and the crunches. 


  1. Maeo, S., Takahashi, T., Takai, Y., et al. ‘Trunk Muscle Activities During Abdominal Bracing: Comparison Among Muscles and Exercises’ Journal of Sport Science & Medicine. 2013; 12(3): 467–474
  1. Oliva-Lozano, J.M., &.,  Muyer, J.M. Core ‘Muscle Activity during Physical Fitness Exercises: A Systematic Review’ International Journal Of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2020; 17(12):4306
  1. FightingCentre (2022) ‘I broke my back! – Mike Tyson’ Available at:https://youtube.com/shorts/Wq3AHVwcvTQ?feature=share (Accessed 15/12/2022) 
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Zaakir Shakoor

Zaakir has attained a bolus of knowledge regarding biosciences through academia and his career experiences. In terms of his educational background, he has a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology (Hons.), a Postgraduate diploma in sports nutrition with the International Olympic Committee, and a Master’s of Science in Nutritional Sciences. Zack has been fortunate enough to apply his Exercise Science and Nutrition Knowledge to aid hundreds of patients.

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