Chances are the center of your midsection gets a little more love than the rest. But if tighter abs are on your wish list, it’s time to address the rest of your core. It’s not uncommon to focus on what’s front and center: your rectus abdominal muscles, aka the “six-pack.” However, training your obliques (located on either side of the abdomen between your hip flexors and your lats), will translate to a sleeker midsection — not to mention a stronger, more stabilized core.
“Sports that involve any sort of twisting or balance control call on your obliques for strength and stability,” says Matthew Wert, M.D, an Orthopedic Surgeon and Director of Sports Medicine at New York Methodist Hospital. These key stabilizing muscles are also directly tied to your powerhouse. “They help athletes balance and are recruited in many sport-specific movements that allow the extremities to connect your power through your core,” adds Wert.
Think of your core as a tall building and your obliques as the strong, concrete pillars holding it up. Weak obliques equals a weak core foundation. By increasing oblique and abdominal strength, not only will you keep your “building” from falling down, you’ll become more explosive (without putting on unwanted added muscle bulk), Wert says, and address mobility issues too. Game on!
The 5 Best Oblique Exercises
1. Bird Dog Crunches
How to: Start on all fours, placing your hands flat on the ground directly beneath your shoulders, and your knees beneath your hips with a flat back position (a). Engage your core and drive your right arm straight out from your shoulder, while your left leg drives straight back from your hip, keeping both parallel to the floor throughout the “reach” portion of this movement (b). Squeeze your right arm and left leg back to the original starting position and hold for split second before starting the second rep (c). Repeat this movement for 10 reps without setting your right arm or left back on the ground, then switch to the left arm/right leg combo. Complete 3-4 sets of 10 reps on each side with 30 seconds rest between each set.
Beginner modification: Reach with only your arm at first. Then as you become more comfortable, reach with just your leg before you graduate to the full movement.
2. Single-Leg Side Plank with Leg Raise
How to: With a mat or soft surface beneath you, lie down on your right side, stacking your feet, knees, hips and shoulders over one another in a straight line (a). Prop yourself up on your right elbow and engage your right oblique and hip flexor to maintain this rigid position. Reach your left arm straight up, directly over your shoulder (b). Next, lift your left leg straight up about 6-12 inches, while keeping your foot flexed directly forward. Hold this position for 10-15 seconds, keeping your core rigid while working on “lengthening” your body throughout the entire movement (c). Repeat in the same sequence on your left side. Complete 3-4 sets of 10-15 second holds on each side with 30 seconds rest between each set.
Beginner Alternative: Try a simple side plank with the top hand placed on your hip. Then work on raising your arm directly above your head. Finally, try and hold your top leg at full extension for a split second. Continue to work in this format until you can extend your leg for 10-15 seconds on each side.
3. Spiderman Crunch
How to: Assume a push-up position, palms planted firmly on the ground. Maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your heels by engaging your core muscles (a). Lift your right leg a couple inches off the ground and bring your right knee towards your right elbow as you lower into a push-up (b). Return your right leg back to the ground as you push yourself back up, and repeat on the left side (c). Alternate legs for 3-4 sets of 10 reps with 30 seconds rest between each set.
Beginner Alternative: Start in the push-up position and alternate lifting your feet up off the ground a few inches with a straight leg and hold each rep for a few seconds. As you make progress, start to bend your knee slightly and bring it towards your elbow.
4. Side Plank Swipers
How to: Start by lying on your right side, stacking your feet, knees, hips and shoulders over one another in a straight line (a). Prop yourself up on your right elbow; engage your right oblique and hip flexor to maintain this rigid position; stretch your left arm out past your head so it is in line with your body (b). Keeping your left arm straight, swipe it directly over your body towards your left hip and squeeze your left side as hard as you can while holding for a split second. Your right hip will drop slightly during this contraction phase, but try to keep the hips stacked over one another and off the ground throughout this movement (c). Reach back to the original starting position and repeat for 4 additional reps before switching to your left side (d). Do 3-4 sets of 5 reps per side with 30 seconds rest between each set.
Beginner Alternative: Work on a simple side plank hold while contracting the hips towards the floor and back up in a “side crunch.” Remember to try and keep the hips elevated off the floor the whole time. Then work on the arm extension portion by itself before combining the two into a full contraction.
5. Single-Leg Toe Touches
How to: Lie down on your back with your legs flat against the floor and arms extended above your head (a). Lift your left leg up with your foot directly over your hip and a slight knee bend. Try to keep your left leg engaged in this position for the entire movement (b). Tuck your chin towards your chest, reach your right arm towards your left foot by contracting your core and hold for a split second (c). Return to the original starting position while keeping your foot and hand elevated off the ground and repeat for 4 additional reps before switching to your right leg and left arm (d). Complete 3-4 sets of 5 reps per side with 30 seconds rest between sets.
Beginner Alternative: Work from the same position on your back, but bend your knee at a 90-degree angle halfway towards your chest. Touch your elbow to the opposite knee. As you become more familiar with this movement, try to progress to the full range of motion by straightening your leg a little more each workout until your foot is directly over your hip.
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