Getting stronger and flatter abs doesn't mean you have to do countless situps and side planks. In fact, doing full-body exercises with weights, such as using a barbell, strengthens your abs better because your abdominal region is part of your core that keeps your body in alignment and balanced when you move. Doing barbell exercises will keep your abs working, save you time and build some muscle definition that will make you smile every morning.
The front squat works your legs and buttocks, as well as your abs. During a squat, your abs activate to brace your spine like a corset, which protects it from injury. Your diaphragm also works harder to control breathing. Holding a barbell in front of you is a more natural way to lift, because in real life people tend to lift and carry things in front of them rather than on the back of their shoulders, says physical therapist Gray Cook, author of "Athletic Body in Balance." Think about how you lift a heavy box or a child from the ground. You lift an object in front of you from a squat position and then stand up with the object held close to your body. To do the front squat, hold a 20-pound barbell with both hands shoulder-width apart in front of you at your shoulder level. Stand with your legs about shoulder-width apart, and keep your elbows close to your body. Inhale and squat down as low as you can while keeping your torso upright. Exhale and stand straight up. Perform two to three sets of eight to 12 reps.
Step and Press
The step and press works on weight shifting while doing a shoulder press. Your abs work to keep a steady breathing rhythm and maintain your posture as you move. Stand with your feet together and hold the barbell like the front squat position. Step back with your left foot, exhale and press the barbell over your head at the same time. Lower the weight to your shoulder level and step back to the standing position. Then step forward with your left foot and press the barbell over your head at the same time. Perform two to three sets of 10 to 12 reps per leg. You may also step to the side or step diagonally from your starting position to add variety to your stepping directions.
The squat press blends the front squat with a shoulder press. Even though you may feel the exercise working mostly in your lower body, your abs are working just as hard to maintain your posture and movement control. Start in the front squat position with a 20-pound barbell. Squat down as low as you can. Exhale and stand straight up, pressing the barbell over your head. Use your lower body to do most of the work to help you press over your head. Lower the weight to your shoulder level and repeat the exercise for two to three sets of eight to 12 reps.
The bent-over row primarilywoks your back and shoulders. Given the forward-bending position, your deep ab muscles work hard to maintain your posture. Otherwise, you can suffer an injury to your back and shoulders with a weak abdominal region. Stand with your legs about shoulder-width apart and hold a 20-pound barbell with both hands about as wide as your shoulders and with your hands facing away from you. Bend forward at your waist so that your arms are hanging below your torso. Keep your knees slightly bent. Exhale to brace your spine and lift the bar toward your lower chest. Squeeze your shoulder blades together for one second and lower the barbell until your arms are extended. Do not round your spine or stick your head forward. Perform two to three sets of eight to 12 reps.
- IDEA Health & Fitness Association: Creative Total-Body Exercises
- ExRx.net: Barbell Bent-Over Row
- ExRx.net: Front Squat
- Athletic Body in Balance; Gray Cook
Nick Ng has been writing fitness articles since 2003, focusing on injury prevention and exercise strategies. He has covered health for "MiaBella" magazine. Ng received his Bachelor of Arts in communications from San Diego State University in 2001 and has been a certified fitness coach with the National Academy of Sports Medicine since 2002.