If you’re looking for information on how to get six pack abs, then you might be in the wrong place as we’re discussing a different set of muscles which make up the midsection.
Well, although the abdominals contribute largely to a sexy set of beach abs… we want to give some attention to the often forgotten (Or neglected) oblique muscles of the core. Now, your oblique muscles add a complete look to your midsection and they bring your core together for a tight and very aesthetic appearance.
But let’s go a little further and discuss what the obliques are and their function…
What Are These Obliques You Speak Of?
Our oblique (Internal and external) muscles are located on each side of our rectus abdominis (Abdominal) muscles; which sit in the center of our core, extending from the pubis to just beneath the cartilage separating several ribs on the trunk. (1, 2, 3)
Internal obliques – Originates at the lumbar fascia and anterior half of Iliac Crest. The internal obliques require the left internal oblique to contract in order to turn the trunk left, and right oblique contraction to turn your trunk to the right. (4, 5)
The internal obliques also act as an antagonist to the diaphragm which decreases the chest cavity during exhalation.
External obliques –Attached to the Iliac Crest, the external obliques work differently than the internal obliques because for example, if you’re turning your torso to the right, the left oblique muscles actually have to contract to make this happen. That’s why they call the external obliques opposite side rotators. (4, 6)
Now, the function of our external and internal oblique muscles is to flex the rib cage while bringing the pelvic muscles together, to bend the trunk laterally, and rotate it. So, we need exercises which will do exactly that for optimal results.
What Makes an Effective Oblique Exercise?
Since the function of the oblique muscles is to rotate and laterally bend the trunk plus flex the ribcage, you want to use exercises that consist of twisting your torso and bending it laterally (Sideways movement).
But some exercises involve either torso or hip rotation to stimulate the oblique muscles so it’s good to use a combination of both, or exercises which do both simultaneously.
It’s also important to mention that lateral trunk flexion is great for increasing range of motion in the spine, so doing more exercises of a similar nature will benefit you greatly in this regard. (1)
Here are some of the best oblique exercises you can do for a killer core…
Thread the Needle
This is an awesome exercise to get those oblique muscles burning and most importantly, growing. Now, all you need is a floor mat or just a bare floor to get a great workout. This exercise is really just a variation to the side plank.
But by rotating your torso with this variation, you’re heavily engaging the oblique muscles since they respond highly to trunk rotation. So, practice this exercise and as you improve, you can increase your reps for an even more intense workout.
How to do the thread the needle
- Position your body as if you were doing a side plank with your left forearm supporting your torso and your right leg on top of your left.
- Then, twist your body clockwise (To the right) and bring your right arm beneath your torso so you’re looking at the floor.
- Now, twist your torso back until you’re in the side plank position again.
Ab Wheel Rollout
A study has shown rollout core exercises to significantly activate the external obliques, and although the ab wheel variation was not specifically mentioned in the study, it’s the most popular form of a core rollout exercise. (7)
So, it’s earned a spot on our list of killer oblique exercises due to studies alone, and the results should follow when implementing the ab wheel rollout into your routine.
How to do the ab wheel rollout
- Begin the exercise on your knees while holding an ab wheel with both hands.
- Then, slowly extend your torso forward while rolling the wheel from the starting position until you’re almost fully stretched out. Keep the back rounded not arched. Back extension is not the goal here.
- Now, roll the wheel back up until your torso is almost erect. Keep your core tight during the movement.
The Russian twist is a phenomenal oblique exercise and the great thing about it is that you can make it as challenging as you want. Now, this movement allows for maximum torso rotation which is ideal for hitting those obliques hard but you do need a little balance to perform it correctly since your feet won’t be touching the floor.
You can choose to just do the exercise with your bodyweight, or you can either use a medicine ball or a weight plate for added resistance.
Make sure your back is straight to protect your lower back and keep your core contracted throughout the entire exercise.
How to do the Russian Twist
- Sit on the floor and raise your legs up so only your butt is touching the floor.
- Then, interlock your hands together or hold weight if you want more resistance.
- Now, twist your torso to the left while contracting your core.
- Then, twist your torso all the way to the right.
The hi-lo woodchopper is an excellent movement which mimics an actual real-life activity… wood chopping! Now, chopping wood is an awesome way to get that core shredded and many people do it just for that purpose.
So, you can imagine how doing it consistently and specifically for oblique training would yield incredible results while building lots of core strength too. You have to try this one out!
Now, you can use a rope, a single grip attachment, or anything else suitable during this cable exercise. But, just make sure you’re using a full range of motion and doing the exercise properly so that you’re fully activating the oblique muscles.
How to do a hi-lo woodchopper
- Set up a rope attachment on a high cable pulley.
- Then, stand beneath the rope and grip it so that your right hand is above your left hand.
- Now, twist your torso down and diagonal toward your left hip.
- Then bring the rope back up until it’s about level with your right shoulder.
- Complete the desired reps for your left side.
- Then, grab the rope so your left hand is above your right hand.
- Now, twist your torso down and diagonal toward your right hip.
- Then, bring the rope back up until it’s about level with your left shoulder.
- Complete the desired reps for your right side.
- Alternate between both arms for sets.
The side plank is a very basic isometric-type oblique exercise and it’s a variation of the standard plank which works the entire core. Now, any plank will test your static strength which is a great benefit of doing these types of exercises but they’re also great at building an aesthetic core.
Start by holding the plank position for about 20 seconds at a time on each side and increase the time gradually as your obliques become stronger.
How to do a side plank
- Position yourself on your left side so your left forearm is supporting you and your right leg is on top of your left.
- Then, place your right arm on your hip.
- Now, raise your body up so it’s in a straight line off the floor.
- Hold this position for at least 20 seconds (Less is ok if you can’t).
- Then, switch to your right side and repeat.
- Alternate between both sides for sets.
The windshield wiper is a very popular oblique exercise and all you need is a floor mat to do it effectively. Now, for beginners, bending your knees will make the exercise easier but the more advanced you get, straightening your legs will increase the level of difficulty.
The key to this exercise is doing the movement in a slow and controlled fashion to really feel the oblique muscles engaging.
Try it out for yourself!
How to do the windshield wiper
- Lie on your back with your arms extended out at your sides.
- Then, lift both legs off the floor and bend your knees.
- Now, rotate your legs to your left side without touching the floor.
- Then, rotate them to the right side.
- Alternate sides for one set.
One-Arm Farmer’s Walk
So you’ve probably heard of the Farmer’s Walk before and it’s a great exercise used by strongman athletes mostly, for building grip strength, core strength, leg strength, and it’ll also put some meat on your forearms since grip plays a big role in being able to carry two huge weights for distances.
But the one-arm variation is surprisingly excellent for the obliques since you’re really utilizing these muscles to balance and stabilize weight while you walk for distance. We highly recommend this variation for great core development.
How to do the one-arm farmer’s walk
- Pick a distance that you’ll walk back and forth for sets.
- Then, grab a dumbbell with your left hand and maintain a straight posture. Use your right hand to balance yourself so you don’t lean to either side.
- Now, walk to the predetermined point you set for yourself and walk back.
- Repeat with your right arm.
- Alternate between arms for sets.
Sample Oblique Workouts
Do these oblique workouts 2-3 times per week in addition to your ab training. Here are sample workouts for people with beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels of training.
Beginner sample routine:
- Windshield wipers 2 x AMRAP (As many reps as possible)
- Hi-lo woodchoppers 2 x 12-15 reps
- Side planks 2 x 20 seconds per each side
Intermediate sample routine:
- One-arm farmer’s walk 2 x 100 feet in distance
- Ab wheel rollout 2 x 10-12 reps
- Thread the needle 2 x 10-12 reps
Advanced sample routine:
- Side planks 2 x 45 seconds per each side
- Ab wheel rollout 2 x 12 reps
- Russian Twists 2 x AMRAP (As many reps as possible)
- One-arm farmer’s walk 2 x 150 feet in distance
Training your obliques effectively doesn’t have to be a difficult process, and you don’t need much, or any equipment to get a great workout. Now, the obliques do need some special focus in order to develop them fully but you just have to know the difference between oblique exercises and abdominal exercises so that you don’t mix them up and do more of one than the other.
Great examples of oblique exercises are ones which involve rotating your trunk, and bending your torso laterally to activate these diagonal muscles fully.
So, we hope you’ll take these exercises and use them for good in your journey of building killer obliques!