Exercises That Target Your Oblique Muscles
The obliques aren’t the first muscles that come to mind when you think of strong abs. No, the rectus abdominis tends to steal the show with its prominent location and six-pack formation, while the oblique muscles are (literally) set off to the side. But when it comes to maintaining spinal stability and performing everyday movements like side bending and trunk rotation, the obliques are the essential muscles needed.
Exercises that Work the Obliques
The oblique muscles are often confused with “love handles,” the fleshy protrusions that form at the sides of your waistline. Love handles are subcutaneous fat, and because spot reduction is impossible, no abdominal exercise will “tone” or “tighten” them; if you want to reduce the fat around your midsection, you need to lose fat overall by controlling your diet.
Strengthen your oblique muscles as well as your other core muscles. A weak core leads to instability and can cause the body to compensate with other muscles, ligaments, spinal bones, and discs. A weak core may lead to posture issues, back pain, and other injuries.
To target the obliques, Rebekah Miller, MS, CSCS, NASM-certified personal trainer, and writer at Exercise.com recommends the following exercises:
“While [Russian Twists] work the entire core, the twisting motion makes it more oblique dominant,” Miller says.
- Sit on the floor with your legs extended. Bend your knees and lean your torso back 45 degrees. Create a “V” shape with your thighs and torso.
- Brace your core and lift your feet about a foot off the floor. Keep your knees bent.
- Clasp your hands together at your chest and extend your arms in front of your chest.
- Maintaining the V-shape with your body and twist your torso to the right. Rotate your hips and your shoulders as you twist. Bring your clasped hands to the right side of your bent knees. Keep your arms straight.
- Come back to center and twist to the left. Bring your hands to the outside of your left side of your knees.
- Continue to twist from side to side for the specified number of reps. For an added challenge hold a medicine ball, dumbbell, or weight plate in your hands at your chest.
2. Lateral Ball Slams
“The rotation and powerful nature of [the Lateral Ball Slam] movement taps into the oblique muscle strength quickly,” Miller says.
- Holding a medicine ball with both hands, stand one-to-two feet away from a wall. Align one shoulder toward the wall and place your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Bring the medicine ball to about waist-height. Turn your body as fast as possible towards the wall, throwing the ball against it.
- As you turn toward the wall, throw the ball against the wall as hard as you can. Use your core strength, not your arms.
- Catch the ball on the rebound, turn back to your starting position.
- Complete all reps on one side before switching sides.
3. Standing Side Crunch
“[Standing Side Crunches] are great for all levels of fitness…” Miller says. “If your balance is deterring you from this movement, you can always lean onto a wall or hold onto something sturdy until you build up strength.”
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and interlace your fingers behind your head.
- Bend at the waist, bringing your right elbow down toward the floor. Simultaneously lift your right knee to meet your elbow.
- Perform each move slowly. Squeeze your obliques hard, and to exhale powerfully on each rep.
- Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side.
- Continue, alternating sides, until all reps are complete.
Where Is the Oblique Muscle in the Body?
Locate the oblique muscles on the sides of the abdominal region between the rib cage and the hips.
“[Oblique muscles] actually extend all the way around the sides [of the body] to the lower back,” says Miller. “This makes the obliques a crucial muscle to build because it acts as a corset to the body, giving stabilization and control to the overall core.”
The body has a total of four oblique muscles: two external oblique muscles and two internal oblique muscles.
“The external oblique muscles are the outermost fibers of the trunk and are located on each side of the rectus abdominis,” says Miller. “Beneath the external oblique muscles, running at approximately right angles to them, are the internal oblique muscles, which form an inverted V shape.”
The internal and external oblique muscles work together to flex the rib cage toward the pelvis, bend the torso sideways, and rotate the trunk.
Abdominal External Oblique Muscle
The external oblique muscle is the more superficial of the oblique muscles. They are located on the sides of the abdomen and wrap around the back of the torso. Originating from the lower eight ribs, they go down the middle of the abdomen and finish at the pubic area.
The external oblique muscles allow for ipsilateral side-bending (bending on the same side) movements. External oblique muscles also provide contralateral rotation (rotating on the opposite side).
External Oblique muscles work with the other core muscles to provide spinal stability.
Abdominal Internal Oblique Muscle
Layered beneath the external obliques are the internal obliques. Internal Oblique muscle fibers run opposite to those of the external obliques. They originate at hips and attach to the bottom of the ribcage. In addition to helping provide spinal stability and intra-abdominal pressure, the internal obliques facilitate same-side bending and rotation.
What Is an Oblique Strain?
Also referred to as a “side strain,” an oblique strain occurs when an oblique muscle is overstretched or torn. Oblique strains are common in sports that require repetitive trunk rotation, like baseball, tennis, and golf.
“A strained oblique is quite painful and debilitating,” Miller says. Symptoms include sharp pain, tenderness to the touch, and bruising. “Since the oblique muscles are active during forward bending, side bending, and many twisting movements, a strained muscle will deter all of these motions in some capacity,” Miller says.
Depending on the severity of the injury, an oblique strain could take up to eight weeks to heal. People with oblique strains are typically advised to rest. In some cases, physical therapy can help facilitate the healing process.