How to Tighten Your Obliques Without Crunches or Hurting Your Back

Protect your lower back during abdominal exercises.

Protect your lower back during abdominal exercises.

You have been faithfully including oblique crunches in your workouts, and now your lower back is paying the price with pain. When done incorrectly, moves that are meant to strengthen can actually have an adverse effect. Improper form during crunches can place stress on the lower back, which may lead to pain or injury. The side oblique muscles, which help you to bend and twist your torso, can be strengthened without performing a single crunch.

Side Plank

Lie on the right side of your body on an exercise mat. Stack your left hip and ankle on top of your right hip and ankle. The knees and hips should be straight. Rest the left arm on top of your left hip.

Place the right forearm on the mat, perpendicular to your body; stack the shoulder directly on top of the elbow. Pull your abdominal muscles in toward your spine to protect your lower back and push your shoulders down and away from your ears.

Lift your hips off the floor so that you are balancing on the outside of your right foot and the right forearm. There should be one straight line from your shoulder to your feet. Allow the abdominal engagement to help you stabilize. Hold the side plank for three to five counts and then lower your body back to the floor. Repeat on the other side.

Standing Trunk Rotation

Stand tall while holding a medicine ball with both hands; hold the ball directly in front of your chest. Separate your feet to be hip-width apart. Engage your abdominal muscles to protect your lower back, and push the shoulder blades down your back. Lift your chest and keep your head facing forward.

Rotate your torso to the right, in a slow gradual manner. Allow the head, chest and torso to move together. Keep the hips pointing forward and both feet flat on the floor. Maintain the abdominal engagement to keep your lower back safe.

Hold the rotation to the right for one count. Release and move back through starting position and then rotate to the left. Continue rotating to alternate sides until you have completed 10 full rounds.

Items you will need

  • Exercise mat
  • Medicine ball


  • Perform the side plank with your supporting arm straightened and your hand stacked under your shoulder for a variation.
  • Turn the upper body only to a point that is comfortable in the trunk rotation.


  • Avoid rotating just your head and shoulders in the trunk rotation. The twist should initiate from the waist rather than the upper back.
  • Keep your abdominal muscles pulled in toward your spine throughout both exercises -- the abdominal engagement can help to protect your lower back.
  • Consult with a physician before starting a new exercise program.

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About the Author

Beth Rifkin has been writing health- and fitness-related articles since 2005. Her bylines include "Tennis Life," "Ms. Fitness," "Triathlon Magazine," "Inside Tennis" and others. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Temple University.

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