Abs Series Part 3 – Obliques

Let’s venture into the thick and thin of oblique training…. literally.

Today, we continue to break down the anatomy of comprehensive core training. For the most part, our discussion has focused on training for aesthetics, and not so much for strength or function. As we delve into the obliques this week, it’s important that you recognize that the discussion is continuing from that perspective. Athletes looking to train for power or engage in activities that demand elevated core strength may need to take different approaches to their training styles.

The first thing you need to do before developing the oblique portion of your core training program is to decide what you want your aesthetic to be. By that, I mean, do you want thick, statuesque obliques? Are you looking to develop a lengthy, streamlined torso like a swimmer’s build? Or, do you want something in between? No matter what look you’re going for, you also need to consider what your current body type is and what will it take to transform you to the look you want. The answers to these questions will dictate how you, as an individual, should train the obliques.

One of the least recognized aspects about the obliques is their inherent strength. They’re a very powerful muscle group, making it very easy to develop them beyond your intended goal. What’s more, the majority of the exercises most people do for the obliques involve weight bearing movements that place the resistance below waist level – a position in which the obliques are at peak strength.

You may wonder, “How can this be a negative?” Well, if you’re looking to present a slimmer waist or accentuate your V taper, bigger may not be better, especially if you already have a solid foundation in your core development. You may actually need to pare down the obliques to get the look you want. However, the more you challenge a strong muscle, the greater its potential to grow, and with growth in the obliques comes increased girth.

Even though that girth is the result of muscle gain, it may not give you a wider appearance than you want. The reason being, a tapered look is the result of proportion: wide shoulders tapering down to a narrow waist. The wider the obliques –  the less of a tapered look you’ll have. Of course, if it is increased girth you’re working toward, then you definitely want to capitalize on that strength to add dimension to your midsection.

Regardless of your desired physique you need to control oblique development, but how? Through goal-based, targeted training designed to produce a specific result. (If you’ve ever read any of my articles, you should have seen that one coming.) As is the case with training any other body part, different oblique exercises and styles of execution yield different results. For example, if you’re a fit woman looking to tone or simply condition the legs and not build upon them, you might incorporate a good number of challenging body-weight exercises like plyometrics, ball squats, lunges and leg lifts. The same is true if you want to develop streamlined obliques without adding mass. Movements like hanging side leg raises (both bent- and straight-legged) and oblique crunches will condition the muscle without stimulating tremendous amounts of hypertrophy.

Conversely, that same woman looking to add muscle mass to the quads, glutes and hammies, might incorporate traditional squats, curls, extensions and probably weighted walking lunges. As such, weighted side bends and heavily weighted rotational machines and exercises will allow you to exert stresses significant enough to break down the muscle for hypertrophic growth.

The reality is, many of you may actually be in search of the long, linear physique, but also might need to add muscle and will actually benefit from a combination of these approaches. To that end, keep in mind that the amount of resistance, rep range and recovery will also dictate whether or not you are conditioning the obliques or working toward increased muscle mass. The key is, when choosing oblique exercises, don’t make your exercise choices simply for the area they target, but also consider the potential result.

On a final note, as we’ve discussed before, human nature drives us to focus our energy and attention on the areas in which we want to see the greatest improvement. However, in the case of oblique training, that may actually mean doing less ─ or using less ─ to achieve more.

Michael Anderson

CPT NCSF, IFBB Physique Pro

Happy Lifting! (or not lifting!)

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