Associated with the abdominal muscles, the obliques are the muscles that run on each side of your midsection, from the side of your abdominals up towards your lats.
Obliques are beneficial for a number of reasons.
When it comes to compound movements, your body needs strong obliques in order to stay balanced; for instance when performing squats, you need strong obliques so that you don’t bend too far forwards and break form.
Without strong obliques you could cause yourself injury when performing compound movements due to imbalances and lack of of strong posture.
What Do Obliques Look Like?
Apart from being a very valuable group of muscles in terms of their functions, the obliques help to give your physique the impression of a small waist. This is because while running from the lats into the centre of the abdominals, the obliques are stabiliser muscles which keep the midsection tight and compact.
The leaner (lower body fat percentage) you are, the bigger the impression your obliques will have on the overall aesthetics of your torso; by making your shoulders appear wider and your waist appear narrower.
Obliques make the shape of small incisions down each side of the torso, which look similar to the damage a slash would make; this is where the latin term ‘obliquus’ originates from and why we refer to this muscle group as the obliques.
Exercises for the Obliques
Now that we’re aware of the the functions of the obliques and what they look like, how can we train them in order to make them stronger and more defined?
Exercise 1 | Russian Twists
Russian Twists are an exercise which require either a partner or an object to keep your feet firmly planted on the floor. The exercise is simply performed by rotating your torso from side to side while holding a weight plate or other resistance object such as a dumbbell or kettle bell.
A: Use a partner or object to firmly plant your feet on the ground
B: Make sure you have a bend in the knees and create a V shape with your body by creating a 45 degree angle between your torso and legs
C: Place your arms out in front of you and take hold of your resistance equipment.
D: Twist your torso to the left and move your arms to face the same direction out in front of you. Repeat this movement for each side of the obliques.
TIP: You may want to perform 10x repetitions on one side (returning to the centre and back to the same side) then, take a rest and perform the exercise for the opposite side for a more precise contraction.
Exercise 2 | Decline Oblique Crunches
Decline Oblique Crunches also allow you to isolate one side of the obliques at a time, however you’re able to apply more of a hypertrophy approach by increasing the resistance more than you would be able to with russian twists. The exercise is simply performed using a decline sit-up bench, where you’ll perform a sit up and crunch to one side at the top of the contraction.
A: Take a seat on a decline sit-up bench and take hold of either a weight plate, dumbbell or kettle bell (whichever is comfiest). Or even wear a weighted vest.
B: Hold the resistance equipment close to your torso, almost as if it’s adding to your centre of gravity and just making you heavier (which increases the intensity of the exercise)
C: Starting from the top, lean backwards until your back reaches the bench, crunch upwards to the left by bringing your right shoulder towards the centre of your torso; you’ll feel your RIGHT obliques contract, as they’re the muscles stabilising you and being used, making sure you don’t fall off the bench.
D: Descend back to the bottom of the movement and crunch back up to the right, using your LEFT obliques to crunch at the top of the movement.
TIP: Once you’re able to perform 12 or more repetitions with a certain weight, increase the resistance by adding more weight. Aim for 8-12 repetitions on each set.
Exercise 3 | Cable Side-Crunches
For this exercise you’ll need a cable with a high attachment and a mat for your knees.
To perform, you’ll take hold of the cable using an attachment that feels most comfortable (usually a rope, or EZ bar), and crunch forwards to each side, alternating sides each repetition; similarly to decline oblique crunches.
A: Take hold of the rope and make sure it’s set at the highest point on the cable. Kneel down onto your mat and hold the rope with your palms facing inwards behind each side of your head.
B: Flex your hips by pushing your backside out and keep a tight torso by retracting your shoulder blades.
C: This is your starting position. Exhale while your crunch forwards and let your elbows travel towards the centre of your thighs for the first half of the movement.
D: Once you’re halfway through your crunch, turn your left elbow inwards and your right elbow outwards creating a twist to finish the movement with your left elbow in line with the centre of your abdominals.
E: Return to the starting position and continue to perform the same movement with the crunch on the opposite time this turn.
F: Repeat the movements for each side 6x.
Take Home Message
Your obliques are vital stabiliser muscles and without them your compound lifts will suffer and you’ll also increase your risk of injury. Use these three exercises to help strengthen and increase the size of your obliques.
Perform these exercises twice weekly just like every other muscle group!