The obliques are the unsung heroes of the core region, working behind the scenes to keep you stable and stylish. They not only enhance the much-craved V-taper but also serve the vital function of twisting and turning the core. The obliques are also tasked with resisting twisting and turning of the abdomen, which is essential to maintain spine health and avoid lower back pain. Oblique muscle exercises are important to build strong obliques and enhance the functionality of the core. “The core and obliques work together for strength and stability,” says Raghu Hondadakeri, a professional powerlifter, and founder of Mutante Strength Gym, Bengaluru.
However, obliques can be elusive to train and build. Experts say picking the right exercises and systematic training are key to strengthening the oblique muscles.
Important functions of internal and external obliques
Rotation: They allow your torso to rotate, which is crucial for movements like twisting, turning, and looking over your shoulder.
Lateral flexion: They enable you to bend your torso when you lean to the side.
Stability: The obliques help keep your trunk stable while lifting — both big lifts in the gym and routine ones involved in daily activities. This helps protect the lower back.
Why training the obliques is challenging
It can be difficult to train and grow the obliques. They are often overshadowed by the more prominent rectus abdominis (the six-pack muscles), so people tend to focus on those instead. Exercises that challenge the obliques functionally are less common in many workout routines, which can make it challenging to grow and strengthen them effectively.
Additionally, obliques tend to be more resistant to hypertrophy (muscle growth) compared to other muscle groups, so it can take time and consistent effort to see significant results. Few dedicated oblique muscle exercises challenge them functionally compared to other muscle groups, making it difficult to target them.
Mistakes while targeting the obliques
Though people do try to work their obliques, even the best of fitness enthusiasts can make mistakes that may hurt their spine. “One common error people make while doing oblique muscle exercises is trying to isolate the obliques with side bends and more. However, the obliques do not respond well to this. Side bend and other bending activities simply cause pain and hurt the spine,” informs Hondadakeri.
Further, such exercises can make the obliques grow while giving your core a look you do not desire. “If you have fat around your belly and you do side bends, the obliques grow bigger and bring out your waist,” shares Hondadakeri.
Beginner-friendly oblique muscle exercises
Hondadakeri shares, “The obliques get stronger with proper breathing. You need to do unilateral strength training like suitcase walk, farmer’s walk and heavy sandbag walks. While doing these exercises, you hold your breath and tense your core.” Here are some more exercises that can help build this elusive muscle.
1. Side plank
- Lie on your side with your elbow directly under your shoulder.
- Lift your hips off the ground, creating a straight line from head to heels.
- Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds on each side.
2. Farmer’s walk
- Hold equal weights in both hands with the body in an upright position.
- The core should be balanced and stable throughout the exercise.
- Ensure you take short strides while holding the weights on the sides and walking.
3. Standing side leg lifts
- Stand up straight with your feet together.
- Lift your left leg to the side as high as you can while keeping your upper body still.
- Lower your leg and repeat for 10-15 lifts on each side.
4. Suitcase carries
- Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold a kettlebell or dumbbell on one side.
- Walk with the kettlebell while trying to keep your core straight.
5. Bicycle Crunches
- Lie on your back with your hands behind your head.
- Lift your shoulder blades off the ground and bring your left elbow toward your right knee while extending your left leg.
- Repeat the motion with the opposite elbow and leg.
- Continue this pedaling motion for 10 to 15 reps on each side.
- The obliques are also tasked with resisting twisting and turning of the abdomen, which is essential to maintain spine health and avoid lower back pain.
- Functionally, oblique muscle exercises are less common in many workout routines and the obliques tend to be more resistant to hypertrophy (muscle growth) compared to other muscle groups. This can make it challenging to grow and build strong obliques effectively.
- Trying to isolate the obliques with side bends and other bending movements is a common mistake while doing oblique muscle exercises. The obliques do not respond well to this, and it may hurt the spine.
- Side planks, farmer’s walk, standing side leg lifts, suitcase carries, and bicycle crunches are good options to challenge the obliques functionally.