Do Deadlifts Strengthen Abs?

Athlete clapping hands with talc before deadlift barbells workout
Get a total-body workout with a single lift. (Image: BartekSzewczyk/iStock/Getty Images)

Greg Glassman, the creator of the CrossFit empire, calls the deadlift "unrivaled" in its impact on the body and "unique in its capacity for increasing head-to-toe strength."

While it's typically a go-to exercise on leg day, as Glassman reports, the deadlift works almost every muscle group in the body, including the abdominal muscles. These muscles perform the important function of stabilizing the spine.

Role of the Abdominal Muscles in the Deadlift

During a deadlift, the rectus abdominis and the obliques are both hard at work. The rectus abdominis is a pair of long muscles that extend the length of the torso. The obliques extend along either side of the torso.

During a deadlift, both of these muscle groups work as antagonist stabilizers, which is a muscle that contracts during a movement to create tension and counter the action of another muscle that may exert force on a joint or several joints.

In the case of the deadlift, the rectus abdominis and obliques counteract the pull of the of the erector spinae — a deep muscle system of the back — on the vertebral column, preventing hyper extension of the spine.

Other Muscles Worked

The primary muscle at work during a deadlift is the erector spinae. This muscle system starts as one muscle at the sacrum and then branches out at the lower back into three separate muscles that extend the rest of the way up the back.

The gluteus maximus — the largest of the glute, or butt — muscles is also heavily recruited. Other muscles involved include the the muscles of the upper back, the adductor magnus on the insides of the thighs, the quadriceps, the hamstrings and the soleus muscle of the calf.

Serious muscular bearded man in shorts and gray tee shirt leading small group of young adults in barbell exercises for fitness training
Don't hyperextend at the top! (Image: UberImages/iStock/Getty Images)

Ensure Proper Technique

Keeping your abdominal muscles contracted during a deadlift is a crucial aspect of proper technique and preventing injury. However, there's more to a deadlift than just keeping the abs tight.

To properly complete a deadlift:

  1. Stand in front of the bar with a natural stance, feet underneath hip, and grasp the bar with a symmetrical grip, slightly wider than your shins. Position your shoulders slightly forward of the bar with the insides of your elbows facing each other.
  2. Keep your chest up and slightly inflated, lock out your arms and pull your shoulders back and down.
  3. Contract your lats and triceps, shift your weight into your heels and keep a neutral spine.
  4. Keep the bar close to your legs during the movement — it should travel straight up and down and not out.
  5. Push through your feet and legs rather than pulling with your arms.
  6. Finish with your shoulders aligned over your hips -- don't hyperextend your lower back.
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