The dumbbell side bend is an isolation exercise that builds the oblique muscles of the core.
Now, there’s been much debate about this exercise due to a common belief that it will create bulky obliques. But, this is simply untrue if training with lighter dumbbells, and performing this movement will, in fact, give a nice “V line” and make your midsection more aesthetic.
But, the lateral flexion of the movement is also beneficial for strengthening the spine. So, train according to your goals and feel free to perform the exercise to your preference.
Here’s a guide to the dumbbell side bend.
In This Exercise:
- Target muscle Group: Internal and External Obliques
- Type: Hypertrophy, strength
- Mechanics: Isolation
- Equipment: Dumbbell
- Difficulty: Beginner
The oblique muscles are located on either side of the rectus abdominis or six-pack abs. There are essentially two parts that make up this muscle: external and internal obliques. The internal obliques lie deep to the external obliques and above the transverse abdominis.
The obliques help to rotate and laterally flex the trunk and are essential for stabilization and compressing the contents of the core or midsection.
How To Do The Dumbbell Side Bend
While you can do this exercise holding two dumbbells, it may work best by using one at a time and alternating between your left and right side for sets. That’s because doing the single-side version does not allow one side to counterbalance the working side and sort of cheat for you.
Therefore, we’ve provided exercise instructions for the single-side variation.
- Grab a dumbbell with one hand and stand straight.
- Keeping your back straight and shoulders neutral, lower the dumbbell down your side focusing on movement from the ribcage and up and without involving the hips.
- Straighten your torso and perform a side crunch on the opposite side.
- Complete the desired reps on one side and then repeat on the other side.
Here’s a video example…
Dumbbell side bend tips
- Always warm-up and gradually increase just as you would for almost any exercise. You can injure yourself or cause pain by jumping straight into relatively heavy poundages.
- Do not bend your entire body to incude your hips during the side bend. The movement should come primarily from the obliques and you should focus on movement from the ribcage and up.
- You can also do this exercise holding two dumbbells, although, it seems to be more disadvantageous.
- Women can do this exercise too. It will not make the obliques too bulky looking if using light to moderate weights.
The dumbbell side be used has been used forever… but there are certainly other exercises that you will work the same muscles. Here are three variations or alternatives that we recommend.
Cable side bend
Almost any exercise can be done using a cable variation and sometimes, it’s better than using free weights. That’s because cables allow you to keep constant tension on the target muscle group.
We’re not necessarily implying the cable movement is better than free weights but it is a great option.
You’ll simply attach a single-grip handle to a low cable pulley and do the exercise the same. Although, you’ll want to step away from the machine to ensure you maintain proper range of motion.
Here’s a short guide to the cable side bend exercise.
The cable side crunch is also another excellent variation/alternative.
However you choose to do this exercise whether that’s using your own bodyweight, cables, or a machine, it works the same muscles.
Not to mention, a simple side crunch or its variations do not require any weights or equipment. So it may be a more convenient way for people to work their obliques.
Check here for more oblique exercises.
Kettlebell side bend
Here’s another interesting way to do the side bend. Use one kettlebell and challenge your obliques a bit differently.
To make the exercise more functional, do a kettlebell swing into the starting position.
How To Incorporate The Dumbbell Side Bend Into Your Training Routine
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing this exercise several times per week and it can help with spine mobility.
The core muscles can be trained more often than other muscle groups as long as you vary the resistance between workouts. This isn’t a maximal weight exercise but rather, an isolation movement.
2-4 sets of anywhere between 8-25 reps, varying the reps between workouts, can be sufficient for the dumbbell side bend.
But it really depends on your goals/exercise routine. If you’re looking to beef up and strengthen the obliques the heavier weights (not maximal weights) for lower reps is ideal.
If doing higher reps, take your sets to failure to get similar muscle-building effects.
The dumbbell side bend may be an old-school exercise but that doesn’t mean it’s any less effective than some of the more commonly used oblique building exercises.
But if you want to get the most out of it and improve the look of your core muscles, then you’ll want to do it correctly. Hopefully, this guide on the dumbbell side bend was helpful and you also have some great variations that can help to maximize your development.