Many abs-focused exercises, like crunches, tend to target the same few muscles in the abdominal group — the rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis.
However, you also need to work those muscles on the sides, your internal and external obliques, to build both strength and stability.
“When you have strong obliques, it gives you greater mobility in everyday movement, because they support you when you’re twisting, but they also take pressure off the lower back and shoulders,” says Minneapolis-based trainer Aaron Leventhal, C.S.C.S.
“You simply have better alignment overall, and that helps with endurance and performance,” he adds.
But there are plenty of other options for keeping your oblique exercises fresh. Try these five to get started:
1. Side Plank Hip Lifts
“There are some common weak points in the human body that the side plank hip lift can address,” says Cody Braun, Assistant Manager of Fitness at Beachbody.
“For many people, shoulder and hip stability are weak links in the kinetic chain, and the side plank hip lift forces you to stabilize the scapula (shoulder blade) while also firing up the gluteus medius to control the hip movement,” he explains.
Here’s how to do it:
- Lie on your left side propped up on your left elbow and forearm, shoulders stacked over your elbow, and legs stacked on top of each other. Hold a dumbbell on top of your right hip.
- Raise your hips so that your body forms a straight line from head to heels. This is the starting position.
- Keeping your core braced and your glutes engaged, slowly lower your left hip, tapping it gently on the floor.
- Reverse the move, returning to side plank position.
- Repeat for your desired number of reps, then switch sides, performing equal reps.
2. Oblique V-Up
The focus here is on lateral flexion of the obliques and going as far into the end range of motion as you can.
- Lie on your right side with your legs straight, feet stacked, and your right arm extended in front of your chest on the ground, palm down. Place your left fingertips behind your left ear. This is the starting position.
- Keeping your core braced (imagine someone is about to punch you in the gut) and legs straight, while making sure not to push with your grounded hand, raise your torso and legs off the ground simultaneously. Bring them toward each other. Your body should form an angled V shape.
- Slowly reverse the move to return to the starting position. Perform equal reps on both sides.
3. Side Plank Oblique Crunch
Stability takes center stage with this plank variation, which forces you to perform it in an already challenging position.
- Lie on your right side (with feet stacked) and prop yourself up on your forearm. Lift your hips so that your body is straight from head to heels. Place your left fingertips behind your left ear. This is the starting position.
- Keeping your core braced, slowly bring your left elbow and left knee toward each other.
- Reverse the move to return to the starting position. Perform equal reps on both sides.
4. C-Sit Tap
Just leaning back in a C-sit will be a burner for your core muscles, and the twist will target your obliques.
- Sit with your butt and heels on the floor, with your knees bent slightly and your arms extended in front of you, palms up.
- Keeping your core braced, lean back slightly, and rotate to your right as you reach back with your right arm to touch the floor behind you.
- Return to the starting position and repeat to your left.
- Continue alternating sides until you’ve completed your desired number of reps.
5. Pallof Press
Although you may not feel like you’re working your obliques because you’re not twisting, the effort it takes to remain steady and facing forward will definitely fire them up.
- Secure a resistance band to a sturdy object at belly-button height.
- Stand next to the anchor point with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. (Position the band at your sternum.)
- Hold the resistance band’s handle against your sternum with both hands. The band should have some tension (with no slack).
- Brace your core and press the handle straight out in front of your torso, making sure your body doesn’t turn to one side.
- Once your arms are fully extended, pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start. Repeat for the desired number of reps.