Six pack abs are like a brand new Mercedes: Something we all dream of having one day but is statistically unlikely to get without putting in a fair amount of work.
And just like you may play the lottery every week to fast-track your C-Class, you’ll dig through countless posts on bodybuilding forums in desperate search of the “quick fix” for six-pack abs.
Deadlifts are arguably the exercise that does it all.
Now you’re wondering:
Do deadlifts work your abs? And if they do, will you get a six-pack?
Let’s find out!
Table of Contents
What is a Deadlift?
AKA: It’s kind of a big deal!
Now: What is a deadlift?
A deadlift is a compound exercise that relies almost entirely on pure strength.
With a loaded barbell on the ground, you’ll use your core and lower body—the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back—to carry the bar from a near-squat to an upright position.
The deadlift is a real test of might and brawn.
But this exercise also comes with benefits like greater core stability, improved posture, and better grip strength. All-around, the deadlift is the best exercise you can do, hands-down.
What is a Six-Pack?
If you ask 100 guys at the gym about their top fitness goals, 95 of them would probably mention “a six-pack” somewhere within their list.
So first: What is a six-pack anyway?
A six-pack is when your abs are so well-defined and chiseled that you can make out the six individual “muscle bellies” of the rectus abdominis (washboard abs).
Translation: It kind of looks like a six-pack of soda or beer from above.
Now, two things make six-pack abs possible:
1. Low body fat (we’re talking 10% or lower, in most cases)
2. Jacked rectus abdominis muscles (bulky enough where you can see six clear muscles)
Given the role genetics, diet, and knowledge of exercise principles have in developing a six-pack, it’s not surprising that not every guy out there has a six-pack.
Having a six-pack doesn’t pose many benefits other than grabbing the attention of a few extra sets of eyes while you’re shirtless on the beach or 20 more likes on your Instagram pictures.
But six pack abs generally come with strong ab muscles. Strong abs can help you with posture, lower risk of back pain, and balance.
What Role Do Your Abs Play In Doing Deadlifts?
So now we know that it’s impossible to do a deadlift without recruiting the muscles in your core, such as your lower back and ab muscles, to help keep the proper form with each rep.
But many lifters greatly over-hype the role the abs play in the standard deadlift.
It doesn’t help that there have been studies claiming the deadlift is just as good for chiseling your abs as your run-of-the-mill abdominal exercises (like crunches and planks).
To dispel that myth right now: It would be silly to replace ab workouts with deadlifts and expect the same or similar results.
When you do a deadlift, your abs play a minor yet important role.
In other words, they keep the upper half of your body stiff as you go through a deadlift’s movements. Without a strong core during a deadlift, you’d likely pull a muscle or fail on a lift.
So yes, the deadlift does work your abs, but not as directly as you may like.
Which Ab Muscles Do You Use In Deadlifts?
While you may not get washboard abs by adding deadlifts to your weekly lifting routine, the abs’ stabilizing role will undoubtedly strengthen them.
Even if just slightly.
A deadlift will activate both the rectus abdominis and the obliques when you hold your breath to tighten your core, keep your upper body stiff, and generate max power during a rep.
This creates intra-abdominal pressure, and a bit more strength in your core.
Yet, the stabilizing role of the rectus abdominis and oblique muscles in a deadlift doesn’t cause a significant enough contraction to trigger noticeable growth.
And if anything, your erector spinae muscles (the strip of muscles along your spine) play a much more important role in keeping good form.
So, again, the deadlift shouldn’t replace ab day or ab exercises entirely.
But they definitely work the abs in a stabilizing sense and, even if the ab benefits aren’t as great as you’d like, it’s ridiculous to do a weightlifting routine without deadlifts.
The Things That Will Get You a Six Pack
Though deadlifts won’t suddenly bring out a six-pack, add 30 seconds to your plank record, or bump up your weighted crunch PR by 20 pounds, some things will help.
First, let’s break through one firmly-held belief:
No, 1,000 crunches a day won’t ensure a six-pack.
To get a six-pack sans-deadlift dependence, you’ll have to:
- Target different areas of your abs (rotation, anti-rotation, and flexion muscles)
- Add weight to your ab exercises (8-15 reps per set—stop with the 50+ rep sets)
- Do cardio to shred fat (a six-pack doesn’t exist if hidden behind a layer of fat)
- Stick to a healthy diet (cut back on sugar, salt, fat, and excess calories to slim down)
- Add more protein to your diet (muscles need 1g/lb to ensure noticeable growth)
If a company claims to have a product—like a belt—that guarantees a six-pack in 30 days, we suggest passing them up on that offer.
There are no shortcuts to a six-pack, and, if there were, we would all have six-packs right now.
If you’re really serious about building a strong, muscular core, check out our review of the Core 4 Program by Athlean-X.
Do Deadlifts Work Your Abs?
Deadlifts work your rectus abdominis and obliques in a stabilizing role, meaning they keep your upper body stiff while doing the deadlift.
On a lesser scale, this can trigger some strength and muscle growth in the abs.
But don’t rely on deadlifts or squats alone to bring out tone or definition in your abs.
The best ways to trigger six-pack type growth are adding protein to your diet, cutting fat out of your meals, shredding fat with cardio, and intentionally targeting all areas of your abs.