Shaping up your obliques not only gives your core an impressive muscle tone, but the benefits go far beyond aesthetics. This group of core muscles helps improve your posture, offers trunk stability, and supports your mobility, helping you successfully move through every range and plane of motion, says Michelle Ditto, training development manager for Pure Barre.
Just think about how often you twist to pick up something you dropped or grab an item off of a high kitchen cabinet or shelf. Your obliques are such a critical aspect of your core musculature that keep your spine stable and allow you to seamlessly move to perform daily tasks. “Freedom of movement is one of the biggest benefits of fitness and strength training overall; it equates to having to think less about how you are moving throughout your daily life, because you have dedicated time to doing that within your fitness routine,” Ditto adds.
When it comes to strengthening your obliques, specifically, there are two main muscles you’ll want to target.
“[There are] two types of oblique muscles, external and internal obliques, with fibers that run in opposing directions,” Ditto explains. “The obliques collectively are responsible for bending you at the waistline and twisting you through the midline. Both of these movement patterns involve the trunk passing through different planes of motion, allowing for increased mobility through the body in an incredibly functional way.”
Today, Ditto breaks down some of the best exercises for your obliques to build a strong, well-rounded core and enhance both your posture and spine health. Keep reading for Ditto’s top-recommended exercises for your obliques that you can easily add to your current routine. And when you’re finished, be sure to check out the 8 Easiest Daily Exercises for a Visibly Toned Six-Pack.
1. Side Arm Planks: 30 seconds on each side
“The tried-and-true for a reason, side arm planks engage the oblique muscles statically to employ functional stability through the trunk,” Ditto explains.
In order to perform a side arm plank, come onto your right forearm on the ground. Stack your feet and hips. Next, press your hips off the ground. Try to complete a 30-second hold on each side for a fast, yet efficient fat burner. Just make sure to perform the same amount of time on each side.
If you’re looking for variations, Ditto suggests, “Add a lower and lift of the hips for added engagement in the obliques and to challenge stability. For better balance, consider staggering your feet, one in front of the other. For added upper-body engagement, try a straight arm variation with your bottom wrist stacked under your shoulder!”
2. Alternating Plank Leg Lifts: 10 to 12 reps on each side
Next up on this list of the best exercises for your obliques is the alternating plank leg lift. “Never has there ever been a more well-known (and possibly dreaded) full-body exercise than a plank,” Ditto says. “To make this king-of-all-core exercises a bit more of an oblique focus, and specifically to focus on anti-rotational work, consider adding a leg lift. Anti-rotational exercises require massive stability in the oblique muscles in a super functional way, providing you with an exercise that helps you correct postural imbalances as well as protect your spine and improve lower back issues!”
To set up for alternating plank leg lifts, lower to your forearms, and extend both legs behind you. Place your feet a bit outside your hips. Next, raise your right leg without allowing your weight to fall onto your left hip. Lower your left leg, and repeat the same motion with your right leg. Shoot for 10 to 12 reps on each side.
“Note that the wider you step, the ‘easier’ it will be to keep your weight neutral without dumping into the opposite hip,” Ditto explains. “For more of a challenge, step your feet narrower. Focus on pressing into the foot on the floor, flex your quadricep, and squeeze your glutes for full core engagement!”
3. Mountain Climbers: 20 to 25 reps
Consider a mountain climber to be a “plank in motion,” Ditto says. The mountain climber is a productive exercise to really work your external obliques. This exercise brings muscular strength and endurance together to boost stamina and fire up your abs.
To set up for mountain climbers, assume a straight-arm plank as you extend your legs behind you, hip-width distance apart. Next, bring your right knee up and across your body toward your left shoulder. Make sure your chest stays open and your spine elongated. Bring that leg back to a plank, then perform the same motion with your left knee, and continue to alternate. Feel free to bump up the speed if you’re able to maintain proper form. Aim to perform 20 to 25 reps.
4. Seated Ab Twists: 10 to 12 reps on each side
“Often referred to as Russian Twists, seated abdominal work is a phenomenal way to increase stability and strength in the full torso and hips while focusing on rotational movements to increase range of motion,” Ditto says. “Training twisting motions safely is wildly important to build a resilient spine and core, helping you do ‘everyday lift things’ that [sometimes require awkward upper-body rotations]. But, maintaining a pliable and strong spine with support from the obliques ensures safety through anything life may throw your way.”
To do the seated ab twist, sit down, bend both knees, and keep your feet flat on the ground. Next, “round your waist” back toward the ground, all while making sure your feet stay in contact with the floor. With a slow and controlled motion, twist your body to the right as your left hip remains on the ground. Then, switch sides. To make things a bit more intense, bring your legs up to a tabletop position while keeping your hips stable, and hold a weight plate, medicine ball, kettlebell, or dumbbell in your hands. Complete 10 to 12 reps on each side.
5. Standing Leg Abduction w/ Resistance: 10 to 12 reps on each side, 3 sets in total
“Your oblique muscles can be engaged in a variety of ways, and that includes working from ‘the bottom, up’ as well,” Ditto tells us. “Standing oblique work, such as a leg raise laterally in this exercise, is an accessible way to target this muscle group, while offering a challenge for balance and additional time under tension for the target muscles.”
To perform the standing leg abduction with resistance, place a closed loop resistance band around your thighs, or to make things more challenging, around your ankles. Stand tall, plant one of your hands on a wall or stable surface for support, and position your feet hip-width distance apart. Kick one leg out to the side, making sure your toes stay in line with the opposite foot. Squeeze your butt, and keep your body vertical. Bring that leg back down. Complete 10 to 12 reps on each side, three sets in total, for a stellar burn along the sides of your body.
6. Single Dumbbell Deadlifts: 8 to 12 reps each side, 3 sets total
Our list of the best exercises for your obliques closes out with single dumbbell deadlifts. “Another anti-rotational movement, single dumbbell deadlifts combine the power of the glutes with the full core musculature, highlighting the posterior chain (back of the body) to increase range of motion in a hip hinge pattern, something you use every day, probably hourly, especially if you are prone to dropping things on the floor,” Ditto says. “While the deadlift is primarily a glute exercise, note that using a single dumbbell increases the need for the obliques to engage to maintain proper alignment through the movement, asking your core to ignite and engage in unique ways.”
To begin, choose a moderate to heavy dumbbell. Have it in your right hand, and extend your arm at your side. Plant your feet hip-width distance apart. Softly bend your knees. Next, hinge your hips forward, and lower the dumbbell down your right leg toward your foot. “Think of sending your tailbone to the opposite side of the room, or like you are closing a car door with your glutes,” Ditto explains.
Keep your spine neutral; don’t round your body or twist your hips. Squeeze your butt in order to come back up, lining your hips up with your shoulders. Complete 8 to 12 reps with the dumbbell in your right hand. Then, switch sides. Perform three total sets.