When it comes to impressive and flashy muscle groups, the core muscles take the cake.
Washboard abs are impressive to everyone: not only do they signify a strong torso and body, but also a lower body fat percentage. However, not all core muscles are built equal.
The most prominent—the six-pack muscle—is the rectus abdominis. And for better or for worse, this is where most people put their attention when developing their abdominal muscles. However, this also means that they overshadow other important muscles found in the region.
The obliques are one of the muscles, often ignored for their more “in-your-face” neighbors. But developing the obliques promises a lot of carry-over benefits, not just to your midsection’s aesthetic, but also to functional and athletic movements.
To many, the obliques are called the side abs. Running along the sides of your core, they’re made up of internal and external obliques. They perform several jobs for your body. For one, they help you bend from side to side, rotate your torso, and bend your spine forward (spinal flexion).
They’re essential for an overall strong core, protecting your spine from rotational movements and movements that could injure it. A set of strong obliques can also help to reduce the appearance of love handles (although getting rid of them will mostly come down to cutting body fat).
Your spine and core are some of the most important parts of your body. Not only do you want a strong torso to avoid unnecessary injuries, but also for the transfer of power between the lower and upper body.
With a strong core that’s well-rounded—not just flashy with washboard abs—you’ll be able to easily perform functional movements in your everyday life, while also improving your lifts when you hit the gym. There’s really no reason not to give the obliques some proper attention every now and then.
When it comes to the anatomy and the mechanics of the obliques, the external oblique is the thickest part. It runs from the lower ribs to the arching bone that’s found on the top of your pelvis (the iliac crest). The internal oblique, as the name suggests, sits right underneath the external part.
The oblique muscles (both internal and external) are contained within the anterolateral abdominal wall, highlighting their importance for supporting your internal organs as well as helping you move your torso. All in all, doing a proper oblique workout is a good way of helping maintain a fit and well-rounded physique.
Since the obliques do so much for us in our daily lives, we need to also be challenging them in various ways. This will ensure that they’re strong in every way possible, and not just in one plane. For example, many people rely on side bends to develop their obliques, which only really challenges them in a certain movement pattern.
The exercises found below will challenge your obliques in everything they were meant to do. From bending, rotating, preventing rotation, and flexion—the exercises below will make for a terrific oblique workout when paired together. And while the obliques do get relatively little attention compared to some other, flashier muscles, you still want to be developing your core (and the rest of your body) in an even manner.
Other muscles are just as important for properly functioning obliques. As always, you’ll want to do a warm-up with some cardio and stretching. But once that’s done, get ready to jump into these great oblique exercises.
The bicycle crunch is a bread-and-butter oblique exercise. It’s popular for good reason: not only does it hit your obliques, but your entire core will be gassed out by the time you’ve finished your reps. However, it’s also an easy exercise to mess up. Just make sure that you’re keeping a tight core and not wiggling around at all.
Lie on your back with your legs in a tabletop position (shins parallel to the floor). With hands behind your head, engage the core and lift your shoulders off the ground. Then, bring your left elbow to your right knee while at the same time straightening out your left leg. Alternate sides and continue.
Mountain climbers are useful in that they can also be a good way to do some high-intensity training if done at a fast enough pace. If you’re looking for rock-hard abs, this movement will kill two birds with one stone.
Begin in a high plank position, with your wrists right underneath your shoulders. Initiate the movement by bringing your left knee to your right elbow, maintaining a tight core. Reverse the movement and then alternate sides with the right leg this time.
There are two ways to do this movement. The first is easier and it has your feet stay on the ground for stability, but the more difficult version will have your feet rise off the ground. The latter will obviously have greater benefits, but it’s also much more difficult.
Begin by sitting on the floor with your feet flat on the ground knees bent. Leaning back, try to get your feet off the ground. Then, take both arms and twist your torso to either side, bringing your arms down to the floor without touching it.
Not only a cool-sounding name, but spiderman push-ups also promise a lot for your core development. Hold a plank position with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and then bend your elbows about a 45-degree angle.
Taking your right knee, move it up to try to get it to touch your elbow while your chest lowers closer down to the ground. Reverse the movement by pressing up while simultaneously extending out your right knee and returning it to the floor. Alternate sides.
When it comes to side abs, the side plank is an obvious choice. It’ll also help to strengthen other parts of your upper body as you struggle to maintain a straight line with your obliques. Begin by lying down on the ground, on your left side. Either using your hand or forearm, raise your body and maintain a straight back by engaging your muscles.
Extending your legs out, stack the right leg on top of the left leg, touching your feet together. Initiate the movement by engaging your obliques and raising your hip upward, either extending your arm up or letting it rest. Hold this position for a while.
Lunges are an amazing compound movement.
They hit your upper and lower body, and also help in developing strength and stability between different muscle groups. Throwing in a pressing motion with one arm takes this exercise to the next level when it comes to training the obliques.
You’ll want to hold a dumbbell at your shoulder, only using one hand. Lunging backward, have your back knee almost touching the floor. Hold this position as you press the dumbbell overhead, lowering it back down slowly. Reverse the lunge and repeat on the other side.
As with most yoga-based movements, the more controlled you are when performing this bodyweight exercise, the more you’ll get out of it. Form is essential as well for getting the most out of this. Get on all fours, with hands directly underneath your shoulders.
Engaging your core muscles, take your left arm and right leg and straighten them at the same time. Reach as far as you can with both limbs as you keep your body as stable as possible. Reverse the movement and alternate sides.
A twist on the classic sit-up, the sprinter sit-up is a great way to engage the obliques and other core muscles. By alternating sides and raising your feet, you’ll be getting a workout throughout your body.
Begin by lying flat on your back, with hands and legs extended straight down. Engaging the core, sit up while simultaneously bringing the right knee towards your chest, left arm forward, and right arm back. Slowly reverse the movement and switch sides through the reps.
The v-up takes things to another level, especially if they’re performed slowly and in a controlled manner. It’s basically a hinging exercise at the core, easily adjustable based on your fitness level. Begin again by lying on your back, this time with your arms extended up behind your head.
Your feet should be extended down, with feet touching. Bracing the core, lift your upper body and your legs at the same time, maintaining straight arms and legs. Bring your feet and hands up as close as they’ll get, pause, and reverse the movement.
The heel tap is basically a side crunch, making it exceptionally good at targeting the obliques over the rest of your abdominal muscles. The trick is to keep your shoulders off the floor, so as to create more tension in your core. Begin by lying on your back with your feet flat on the floor, knees bent.
Extend your arms downward, flat on the floor with palms facing down. Engage your core and bring your upper back off the floor. Initiate the movement by reaching sideways with your right arm, tapping your right heel with your hand. Reverse the movement and alternate sides.
A variation of the stability ball plank, this exercise throws in some movements in order to challenge your obliques even further. The closer your feet are together, the more difficult this will be.
Kneel in front of a stability ball, with your forearms resting on it. Extend each of your legs out behind you, keeping them as far apart as you feel comfortable. Continue by rotating your arms in a circular motion.
Almost a standing variation of the heel tap, the wide side crunch also throws in some lower body work. The wide stance will help to engage your quads and glutes—squat as far down as you’re comfortable.
Begin in a wider stance and lower down into the squat position. Bring your arms behind your head and bend to the side. Get your right elbows close to your right knee, then switch sides.
As the name suggests, you’re going to be mimicking chopping wood. It’s a great full-body exercise that’s sure to have you work up a sweat. Bring a dumbbell to the right side of your body, holding it with both hands.
Lower down in a squat and rotate to the right at the same time. Begin by standing up and swinging the weight up, twisting your torso to the left as you do so. You’ll want to pivot on your right toe, bringing the dumbbell over the left shoulder.
The squat is one of the best exercises you can do.
Spicing things up slightly will place a greater emphasis on the obliques while giving the rest of your body a good workout as well.
Start with a dumbbell in your right hand, outside of your shoulder with your arm slightly raised and palm facing you. Lower yourself into a squat, keeping a straight back. Reverse the movement and continue.
Much like the squat, the overhead press is an amazing full-body exercise. Making it single-arm will further challenge the side abs. Hold the dumbbell just outside of your shoulder, much like with the squat above. With your feet shoulder-width apart, press the dumbbell overhead until your elbow is locked out. Slowly reverse the movement back to the starting position.
This is a more advanced movement, but results are guaranteed if you’re looking to burn through your obliques. Begin on all fours, bringing your knees slightly up.
Take your left knee and bring it to your right elbow—your right arm should bend as your knee moves up. While you do this, your left arm should maintain contact with the floor as your torso rotates. Reverse the movement and then repeat with the opposite side.
Another more advanced maneuver, you’ll need a pull-up bar to complete this exercise—but results are guaranteed. Hang from the bar with an overhand grip, and bend your knees to bring them closer to the left side of your rib cage. Slowly bring them back down, and then bring them back up to the right side.
This is a high-intensity exercise that’s excellent for burning calories along with getting shredded obliques. As always, a consistent form is the most important thing—don’t just throw the ball at a wall.
Grabbing a medicine wall, begin around 3 feet away from a wall, standing sideways to it. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and bend the knees slightly. Hold the ball at about chest level, with your arms parallel to the floor. Rotating your torso towards the wall, let go of the ball and catch it as it bounces back.
Another bread-and-butter lift in any exercise routine, the bench press is a great way to build your chest muscles. By using just a single dumbbell and proper form, your obliques will also feel the burn.
Grabbing a dumbbell with one hand, lie down on a flat bench. Hold the weight over your chest and brace your core muscles. Begin by lowering the dumbbell to the side of your chest and pausing for a second. Then, push it up until your elbow locks out. Don’t move your torso as you do this.
A spicier version of the regular old side plank, this version will elevate the exercise—literally. Although more difficult, it’ll also do a better job of challenging your obliques through a wider range of motion.
Once again, get into the side plank position. While balancing on your feet and bracing your core muscles, lift the leg that’s on top as high as you’re able to. The bottom leg will be supporting the weight as you hold this position for as long as you can.
Obliques are good for your aesthetic and they’re good for a well-functioning body that can tackle any challenge thrown at it. But since they’re a complex muscle group that does multiple things, it’s important to challenge them in every way they’re meant to be challenged.
Twisting, bending, and maintaining a strong spine are all keys to developing the obliques. Incorporate some of the exercises above into your abs workout, and you’ll be well on your way to a strong and impressive core. As always, ensure that you’re putting high-quality nutrients into your body. Good sources of protein will help your muscles grow efficiently and consistently.
And, if you’re looking for that perfect set of washboard abs with the obliques to prove it, adopt a diet that allows you to slowly lose some body fat.
A little supplement magic can always be useful for getting shredded, but it’s ultimately going to come down to the right routine and the right mindset.