When you're looking for more ways to tighten your midsection, don't focus only on the abs; give your obliques some love as well. The obliques -- which run along the ribs and down into the hip region -- have an external and internal layer, both of which are activated with motions that involve twisting. You can do this by adding a "twist" motion to your sets of crunches, or you can add weights to give the external obliques a more intense workout. You have a lot of choices for exercises, but many involve either an incline bench, a side bend platform or a stationary weight machine set to a "twisted" position. Do 10 to 25 repetitions of each exercise, then try a second or third set if you can, suggests the American Council on Exercise.
Choose a fairly light-weight plate, such as a 10-pound weight, and place it at the bottom of the incline bench. Lie face-up on the bench and hook your feet on the foot brace, then reach over your head and grab the weight plate. It's up to you whether you hold the weight plate behind your head with both hands, or in front of your chest with both hands. Either way, engage your abdominals as you move to sit up on the incline bench. When you get "up," twist your body so that your left elbow meets your right knee, if you're holding the weight plate behind your head. If the weight plate is in front of your chest, simply twist and point the left shoulder toward the right knee. On the next repetition, meet the opposite elbow to knee.
The side bend platform is a special piece of equipment that has padding on its vertical supports to make it comfortable to lean against. If you're not sure whether your gym has one, ask a trainer or gym attendant. Step onto the equipment, placing one leg and hip against the padding. Grasp a weight plate and hold it with both hands in front of your chest. In the starting position, your entire body will be angled to one side, but your body will be in one long straight line. To do the exercise, lean your upper body downward toward the floor until your torso is at about a 45-degree angle from your legs. Come back to the starting position to complete one repetition. Another option for this exercise is to hold a dumbbell in the hand that is closest to the side you'll be leaning toward, allowing the dumbbell to hang and point toward the floor as you do the side bend.
Side Crunch Machine
Some gyms have a crunch machine that allows you to move the arm rest at an angle from the chest to encourage a twisting motion. Others may have a machine dedicated to the side crunch. Ask your gym attendant to show you how to move the machine if you're not sure. Sit on the seat and pull the pin on the weight plates, and put the pin back under the lightest weight plate to test your strength with the machine before you try heavier weights. Turn your body toward the arm rest, which should cause you to twist away from your lower body. Lean forward to engage your obliques, then sit back up to complete one repetition. If you find that the lightest weight is too easy, gradually add more weight until you find a challenging yet comfortable weight.
A medicine ball can be used to exercise your obliques. Lie face-up on the floor and place a medicine ball between your feet, squeezing your feet together to keep the medicine ball in place. Extend your arms to your sides so you've created a T with your body and arms. Push downward with your hands to stabilize your body as you lift your legs, keeping your knees a little bit bent. Lower your legs to one side, moving to touch your thigh to the floor, while at the same time keeping your torso on the floor so you're creating a "twist" in the body. When your feet get near the floor, lift them and move your legs to the other side. You can also do this exercise holding an exercise ball between your legs, or you can strap ankle weights on each ankle and do the exercise without a ball.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.