Your oblique muscles are located on either side of your torso. They are responsible for handling two movements at your waist: bending side to side and twisting. A comprehensive oblique workout will consist of exercises that feature both of these movements. To build strength and tone, lateral oblique exercises should be done frequently, while still allowing your muscles enough recovery time.
Complete your oblique workout twice per week, with two days of rest between each of your training sessions. If you're focused on improving strength, perform each of the lateral oblique exercises for two or three sets each. If developing muscular tone is your primary goal, bump up your workout volume to three to five sets of each oblique exercise.
Lateral Flexion Exercises
When your obliques bend you side to side, they are said to be performing lateral flexion. Side plank and oblique crunch are two lateral flexion exercises. The side plank exercise forces your obliques to isometrically contract, meaning they have to hold you in a position over time. Lie on your right side on an exercise mat with your legs stacked on top of each other. Position your right elbow on the mat underneath your shoulder and rest your left arm atop your torso. Rise up onto your right elbow and feet so that your torso and thighs are in a straight line. Hold this position for as long as you can, and then switch to the left.
Move right into oblique crunch from side plank. Lie down on your right side with your waist slightly bent to create a “V” shape with your body. Place your left hand against the side of your head. Simultaneously lift your legs and shoulders up off the floor, and then lower back down to the floor. Perform the exercise for 15 to 30 repetitions, then switch to the left side.
To challenge your obliques with twisting exercises, perform both seated twist and standing wood chop. For seated twist, sit on an exercise mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor while holding a medicine ball at your chest. Lean back and pick your feet up off the floor with your legs bent at the knee so that you create a “V” shape with your thighs and torso. Twist to your left and tap the ball on the floor by your hips, then twist to your right and tap the floor to the right of your hips. Rotate back and forth until you tap the floor a total of 30 times.
To perform standing wood chop, stand with your feet set to shoulder-width apart. Hold a medicine ball with both hands and extend your arms out in front of you. Bend your knees slightly and lower the medicine ball to the outside of one knee. Rise up and twist, swinging the ball up and over the opposite shoulder. Swing the ball back down to move right into the next repetition. Complete the set of 15 repetitions, then switch sides so that you’re swinging the ball up over the opposite shoulder.
When training your obliques, avoid exercises that place an excessive amount of stress on your spine. One such exercise is the seated torso rotation twist machine, commonly found in gyms, which forces you to keep your hips facing forward as you rotate your torso. This places too much rotational force onto your spine. Standing wood chop and seated twist, on the other hand, allow your pelvis to twist with your torso. Another potentially harmful exercise is the Russian twist, which is performed by lying sideways on a hyperextension bench and bending and twisting to lower yourself down toward the floor and pulling yourself back up; this move places shearing stress onto your spine and can cause back pain.
Kim Nunley has been screenwriting and working as an online health and fitness writer since 2005. She’s had multiple short screenplays produced and her feature scripts have placed at the Austin Film Festival. Prior to writing full-time, she worked as a strength coach, athletic coach and college instructor. She holds a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton.