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Squat Your Way to Six Pack Abs

Updated on April 4, 2018

You’re doing cardiovascular and abdominal training until you’re blue in the face but your abs are still looking like flabs? Stop wasting your time by over doing those typical abdominal crunches (sorry, cardio not excluded) and get real results with squats and a barbell.

For that sought after ‘cover model abs’ look, include these ‘unconventional’ ab exercises into your training schedule and kill two birds with one stone. We don’t skip leg day! Or any training day for that matter.

  • Know how to do these movements correctly and warm up before loading heavier weights – preferably have the assistance of a ‘spotter’ and do not compromise your form for any reason.
  • If you have back/knee injuries, consult a professional - squats have an unfair reputation for worsening such injuries.
  • Fight to lift your barbell instead of dropping it when you’re tired – you’ll gain strength by completing movements.

#1 Front Squats

  • SET UP: The squat rack pins should be set more or less at the height of your clavicles in order to get under the bar easily.
  • HAND GRIP: Choose a grip similar to the grip that you would normally use for a clean or press (comfortable shoulder width apart) and lightly hook your hands under the bar.
  • PLACEMENT: With the bar resting above your clavicles, rotate your elbows upwards, ensuring that your triceps are more or less horizontal with the ground. It’s normal to feel discomfort in your wrists if you have poor flexibility.
  • UN-RACK: It is super important to take this step seriously. If you are sturdy and well balanced under the bar, you set yourself up for good form beginning to end, so tighten your core as you step away from the squat rack. If you make mistakes during this process, you’re likely to make mistakes during your squat.
  • MOVEMENT: Look straight ahead and keep your elbows up at all times, barbell resting on your clavicles, begin with feet more or less shoulder width apart and toes pointing outwards at a 30-45 degree angle aligned with knee direction (if you have knee problems, it’s advisable to keep your toes pointing forwards rather than outwards at an angle and because everyone is unique you must play around with your own stance to find the most comfortable position). With your hips slightly backwards to place resistance into your heels, take a deep breath to engage your midline core and descend into a squat (hips parallel at 90 degrees or below parallel for the best results). Ascend with your chest out and weight in your heels – if you stumble at any point, you need to engage your core or rethink the weights that you are lifting with.

Food for thought: From the above, it’s easy to see that your abs will be worked extensively with front rack squats – more so than back squats. Barbell (most free weight) exercises require solid core stability so they are excellent ‘indirect’ measures to target stubborn muffin tops. Warm up with a rowing machine sprint and burpee box jumps for a no-nonsense abdominal burn!

#2 Overhead Squat

  • SET UP: The squat rack pins should be set more or less at the height of your clavicles in order to get under the bar easily.
  • HAND GRIP: Choose a wide snatch grip and point your elbows downwards. Get your wrists in line with your elbows – if they’re bending backwards, you’re not ‘getting under the bar’ to do a powerful overhead press. Simply stated; don’t make yourself work harder than necessary to get the bar overhead, you’ll just risk getting injured!
  • PLACEMENT: The bar will be resting on the base of the neck, lying across the top of your traps with your hand grip ready in a wide snatch position.
  • UN-RACK: It is super important to take this step seriously. If you are sturdy under the bar, you set yourself up for good form so tighten your core as you step away from the squat rack. If you make mistakes during this process, you’re likely to be unbalanced and make mistakes, especially with an overhead squat.
  • MOVEMENT: With feet more or less shoulder width apart and toes pointing outwards at a 30-45 degree angle aligned with knee direction (if you have knee problems, it’s advisable to keep your toes pointing forwards rather than outwards at an angle and because everyone is unique you must play around with your own stance to find the most comfortable position), begin in back squat position. Take a deep breath to engage your mid-line core and NB; make sure that your feet are firmly planted! Do a very slight but quick downward dip and drive the bar straight up overhead with that momentum. The bar should be aligned with your heels at all times during the overhead part of the squat. You will continuously press back on the bar with locked arms (squeeze your shoulder blades together) to maintain your balance (hips parallel at 90 degrees or below parallel for the best results). Remember that a wide snatch grip will give you the best control over this movement.

Food for thought: The overhead squat is a tremendous abdominal workout because, to state the obvious, an overhead barbell is highly unstable (and heavy). It is important to have good shoulder and hip flexibility (at the very least) before attempting it. If your form is even slightly off you will risk hurting yourself so be deliberate and in control of every aspect, especially when you start to load weights. This is a great workout finisher – you will be finished after a few sets of these!

#3 Shoulder Press

  • SET UP: The squat rack pins should be set more or less at the height of your clavicles in order to easily get under the bar.
  • HAND GRIP: Choose a grip similar to the grip that you would normally use for a clean or press (comfortable shoulder width apart) and hook your hands under the bar.
  • PLACEMENT: With the bar above your clavicles, rotate your elbows downwards. Get your wrists in line with your elbows – if they’re bending backwards, you’re not ‘getting under the bar’ to do a powerful overhead press. Simply stated; don’t make yourself work harder than necessary to get the bar overhead, you’ll just risk getting injured!
  • UN-RACK: It is super important to take this step seriously. If you are sturdy under the bar, you set yourself up for good form so tighten your core as you step away from the squat rack.
  • MOVEMENT: Begin with feet more or less shoulder width apart. Take a deep breath to engage your mid-line core. Do a very slight but quick downward dip and drive the bar straight up overhead with that momentum. Bring the bar down onto your clavicles and repeat until you need to re-rack.

Food for thought: Overhead presses, similarly to overhead squats, demand a whole lot of core stability so you can still reap the belly burning benefits if overhead squats are not your forte! Remember that your weaknesses can only improve by working on them – see mobility tips below.

#4 Back Squats

  • SET UP: The squat rack pins should be set more or less at the height of your clavicles in order to get under the bar easily.
  • HAND GRIP: Choose a grip similar to the grip you would normally use for an overhead press and hook your hands under the bar.
  • PLACEMENT: With the bar resting on the base of the neck, lying across the top of your traps, squeeze your shoulder blades together to create a nice comfortable cushion for the bar to rest on – this is the most favorable position for beginners.
  • UN-RACK: It is super important to take this step seriously. If you are sturdy under the bar, you set yourself up for good form so tighten your core as you step away from the squat rack. If you make mistakes during this process, you’re likely to be unbalanced and make mistakes when you squat.
  • MOVEMENT: Keeping your elbows facing down towards the ground and your eyes looking straight ahead at all times, begin with feet more or less shoulder width apart and toes pointing outwards at a 30-45 degree angle aligned with knee direction (if you have knee problems, it’s advisable to keep your toes pointing forwards rather than outwards at an angle and because everyone is unique you must play around with your own stance to find the most comfortable position). With your hips slightly backwards to place resistance into your heels, take a deep breath to engage your mid-line core and descend into a squat (hips parallel at 90 degrees or below parallel for the best results). Ascend with your chest out and the weight in your heels – if you stumble at any point, you need to engage your core or rethink the weights that you are lifting with!

Food for thought: Back squats are a killer workout when combined with plyometric exercises such as tire flips and battling ropes. They target the lower abdominal quarter where that undesirable belly fat is stored!

#5 Barbell Good Mornings

  • SET UP: As above for back squats unless you’re using a very light barbell or PVC pipe to master the movement first.
  • HAND GRIP: As above, hands comfortably shoulder width apart and elbows pointing downwards.
  • PLACEMENT: With the bar resting on the base of the neck, lying across the top of your traps, squeeze your shoulder blades together to create a nice comfortable cushion for the bar to rest on – this is the most favorable position for beginners.
  • UN-RACK: It is super important to take this step seriously no matter what movement you’re set up for. If you are sturdy under the bar, you set yourself up for a good lift! Tighten your core as you step away from the squat rack.
  • MOVEMENT: Begin with feet more or less shoulder width apart and toes pointing outwards at a slight angle. With eyes looking straight ahead at all times, bend your knees slightly and push your hips backwards to engage your glutes and deep core muscles. Balance the weight between mid-foot and heel, take a deep breath to tighten your core and lower your chest parallel to the floor. Do not round your spine! Stay in control as you ascend back up.

Food for thought: A good ‘good morning’ utilizes the entire length of the body as a lever arm which means that the weight load of the barbell is distributed throughout the posterior chain. That’s a lot of muscle worked ladies and gents, don’t miss out on this movement! If you’ve been doing it with straight legs, there’s no doubt that you haven’t been ‘feeling it’.

Improved mobility tips:

A ¾ PVC pipe is a useful, dirt cheap piece of hardware that makes a valuable addition to your workout –it also has the ability to turn you into a ninja and combat expert so proceed with caution! There are endless variations and stretches that can be done to improve your ability. Here are two to start you out;

  • Standing full shoulder rotations: a great warm up tool and will gradually improve your shoulder flexibility for challenging movements such as the overhead squat and other Olympic lifts.
  • Standing lateral bends: done correctly and with control will strengthen your abdominal region and spine for powerful lifts.

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