Do squats work abs is a legitimate question. We all like it when an ab or six start to show through.
Squats are a brilliant all-round exercise and it’s likely you already fit a squat variation into your workout routine.
Of course, squats primarily target your quads and leg muscles, but are squats good for abs too?
Yes, squats do work your abs. But I personally wouldn’t squat just for abs. The ab workout is an added bonus.
Keep reading to learn how squats work your abs, the specific ab muscles they target and what other exercises you should do as well as squats to really create a solid, muscle popping six pack.
- Do squats work abs?
- Which core muscles are activated in squats?
- Can squats help burn body fat?
- Are squats good for abs or should you be doing more?
- Better exercises to train abs directly
- Are squats enough for a six pack?
- Can squats work your entire body?
Do squats work abs?
The short answer is yes squats work your abs. The squat, especially a loaded squat, requires solid core strength and stability. Forming part of the front section of your core is your abs, which play an important part when squatting.
Overall, squats are an excellent way to activate your core muscles to build a strong mid-section.
Think about it. When you’re squatting down, your abs and core muscles should be activated and tight. This is to keep the main trunk of your body in the right position and, importantly, your spine protected. Alongside your abs, your obliques and spinae erectors will be engaged too.
If you’re squatting without activating your abs, there’s something wrong that needs to be corrected.
Which core muscles are activated in squats?
Working your abs is often a extra benefit of squating. A by-product if you will.
The main goal of squatting is to work your quads and build big legs, or at least strengthen them. This is my goal when I hit the squat rack.
Major muscles hit with squats
- Erector spinae
- Hip abductors
- Hip adductors
The core includes the muscles of the mid-section of your body which has the abdominals, rectus abdominis and the erector spinae.
During a squat, these muscles become active to improve your core strength. The goal with these muscles is to protect your spine. Studies have shown that the squat activates this mid-section muscles more than deadlifts.
You should also activate your core when squatting anyway. Let’s do a bit thought experiment (or real experiment if you like).
In your own private space, take your top off so you can see your midsection and stand in front of a mirror. Prime yourself for a squat by getting in the right stance. Keep your core tight as you squat down. You’ll either notice your abs are tense or you should certainly feel that they are.
Your core and abs should always be braced during the squat. Imagine you’re about to be punched in the stomach. This is an activated core.
As a secondary by-product of this, squatting works your abs! Let’s take a look at a few of the main abdominal muscles that are worked through squats.
1. Rectus Abdominis
The rectus abdominis is what people know as the ‘abs’.
This is the long muscle running from just under your pectorals down to your pelvis. When body fat is lower enough, the rectus abdominis can be seen forming the ‘six pack’ or even 8-pack if you’re lucky!
The truth is, everyone has these ‘abs’. Every single person.
The only difference is what’s covering them up. To make them more visible, body fat percentage has to be reduced and they also have to be trained to build them up.
2. Transversus Abdominis
The transversus abdominis is the deepest set of the abdomen muscles. It plays a couple of roles, including spine support, but its main one is to support your vital organs.
It supports your organs through the way it’s structured. Unlike the rectus abdominis that run top to bottom, the transversus abs wraps around your the trunk of your body.
Imagine wearing a weight lifting belt, well this is exactly how the transversus abs are positioned.
You’ve probably heard of your obliques. You have two types: internal and external obliques.
The oblique abdominal muscles nestle under your rectus abs and span out laterally towards the sides of your body. The obliques are primarily responsible for lateral flexion and rotation.
You don’t want to twist at all when squatting, so the obliques help to perform a supporting role for your core.
Can squats help burn body fat?
If you want to drop a bit of body fat to show up your abs more, squats are a good exercise to integrate into your regular routine.
Squats are a multi-joint movement, known as a compound move. Any compound lifting movement, such as the deadlift and bent over barbell row, recruits many different types of muscles. Of course muscles need energy which comes in the currency of calories. Therefore, the more muscles involved in a movement, the more calories you are going to burn.
No, ankle flexions and wrist curls are not going to cut the mustard if you want to burn fat! You need big movements.
So yes, squats can help you to lose overall body fat by helping you burn more calories. That being said, you’ll need to get the basics of diet right as well if you are to stimulate a drop in body fat. This is essential.
Are squats good for abs or should you be doing more?
To be honest, there are a variety of exercises out there that directly target your abs in a more efficient way that squats.
So why should you go for squats rather than planks or crunches?
Firstly, squats work not only your abs but many other muscles. They’re also a very functional move that can help with everyday life.
Although it may seem that squats aren’t as effective as exercises like the plank, some research has shown otherwise.
This 2018 study compared the activation of core muscles during a squat vs plank. The study showed that a 6-rep back squat activated the rectus abdominis and external obliques to a similar extent as a plank.
The differences were non-significant. However, squatting resulted in greater erector spinae activation.
Conclusions from this are that squatting is an excellent movement to work your abs – just as good, if not better, than doing a plank hold.
On a personal level, I haven’t trained abs directly in the conventional way for a number of years. However, come the summer time, I’ll lower my calorie intake, drop a few kilograms and my abs will be there to see.
Better exercises to train abs directly
I don’t think it should be a case of training abs vs squats.
Squats should be an essential part of your training regime. But if you want to really build those ab muscles up, there are some more effective exercises you should incorporate into your training.
Better ab exercises in my opinion include:
- Weighted ab crunches
- Hanging leg raises
- Kettlebell swings
- Russian twists
- Toes to ceiling
I’d suggest doing these ab exercises at the end of a strength workout. Or if you’re on a cardio day, do them then. Get the hard, heavy exercises done first whilst you have the energy and are not fatigued.
Are squats enough for a six pack?
To conclude, squats activate your core muscles to a significant extent. Yes, squats work abs.
Squats alone can be good enough to develop a six pack. However, if you want that block abs look, you’ll have to incorporate more focussed ab exercises to really develop them.
A great way to do this is to combine combine squats with a few other ingredients.
Exercise wise, I’d pair with a pure oblique movement and a primary rectus abdominis move. It goes without saying that you’ll need a healthy and disciplined diet to get your abs firing through.
All in all, squats are a fantastic exercise that should definitely be a integral part of your weekly training schedule.
Can squats work your entire body?
Yes, squats work your entire body. They’re an excellent way to activate core muscle groups of both your lower and upper body, which helps with a stronger mid-section.
Whenever you train hard or lift weights, you trigger a sympathetic nervous system response.
This sympathetic system is your ‘fight or flight’ response. It triggers a wave of adrenaline response and also the release of a number of other hormones, such as testosterone and human growth hormone.
These latter hormones are greater for building muscle and making you stronger throughout your whole body.
Along with this, the sympathetic response also aids in other health-related measures such as lowering hypertension, resting blood pressure, and even chronic diseases like diabetes. This is as long as you don’t stay in a sympathetic nervous response and shift across to the parasympathetic (or rest and digest) system shortly afterwards.
- Muscle Activation in the Loaded Free Barbell Squat (Clark et al, 2012)
- Trunk Muscle Activation During Dynamic Weight-Training Exercises and Isometric Instability Activities (Hamlyn et al, 2007)
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Ben is passionate about getting strong both physically and mentally. He’s been obsessed with all things health and muscle building for over 15 years. In between strength and conditioning training five times a week, Ben is a professional fitness writer. Ben has a first class Biology degree, is a fully qualified teacher and L3 Personal Trainer.