Are your abs workouts all about the six-pack abs muscles (a.k.a. your rectus abdominis)? It's easy to neglect the others, but sculpting a strong core takes a literal 360-degree approach—and your obliques are an important part. These core muscles are essential to daily function—stabilizing your body, coordinating your breathing, and supporting your lower back.
You might think of obliques as your “side abs,” but all of your abdominal muscles are technically layered in the front, according to Kristie Larson, CPT. You have internal and external obliques that are responsible for rotating and flexing the trunk and working with the other abdominal muscles to create intraabdominal pressure (the sensation happening when you brace your core).
Meet the expert:Kristie Larson is a NASM-certified personal trainer at FitHouse and Rise by We in New York City.
There’s a common misconception that rotating will hurt your lower back, but “the ability to rotate and to manage rotation well is really fundamental to the way that we function,” Larson says. Rotating trains your body to handle heavy loads while avoiding pain or injuries, she adds. “Our trunk needs to be able to bend and fold and twist in order to execute everything that we do in daily life,” she says. (See, the obliques are clutch.)
Convinced to add an oblique workout to your routine? The oblique exercises below are the best in the game and perfect for all strength levels. Mix one or two moves into your core routine or full-body sessions, or string them together for a spicy sequence that'll set those side abs on fire. No matter what, focus on your form.
Time: 10 minutes
Equipment: Medicine ball, stability ball, a weight (dumbbell or kettlebell)
Good for: Obliques
Instructions: Choose three to four exercises below. Set a timer for 45 seconds. Perform as many reps as possible in that time, then rest for 15 seconds before continuing onto your next exercise. After you've completed all of your moves, start from the top and repeat twice more for a total of two rounds.
- Start lying on back with hands by sides and legs extended straight on floor.
- Explosively sit up, bringing right knee toward chest, right arm back, and left arm forward at a 90-degree angles.
- Reverse the motion with control and repeat on the other side. That's one rep.
- Start lying on back with right leg and arm straight on the floor and at a 45-degree angle from body, left leg bent so foot is flat on the floor, and left arm extended up toward ceiling (elbow locked out) holding a kettlebell.
- Keep eyes on kettlebell, press into right arm, and sit up, coming onto right forearm.
- Then, press through right palm and left foot to lift hips into air, keeping right leg straight.
- Slowly reverse the movement to return to starting position. That's one rep.
- Start lying on back with legs in the air, heels over hips, knees soft, and arms by sides.
- Squeeze legs together and lift hips off mat and toes toward ceiling, while turning knees to face your right shoulder.
- Reverse motion to return to start with control and alternate sides. That's one rep.
- Get on all fours, with your hands stacked directly under your shoulders.
- Wrap a resistance band around your feet.
- Keeping your torso still and core engaged, extend your right arm out in front of you, and your left leg straight behind you.
- Then, bring your right elbow and left knee in underneath your torso until they touch.
- Repeat on the opposite side. That's one rep.
- Start in a forearm plank position, shoulders over wrists.
- Keeping navel drawn toward spine, dip hips to left side, then bring them in a low arc through center to the right side. That's one rep.
- Start in a plank position with shoulders over wrists and legs straight.
- Drive right knee to left elbow, return to plank, and quickly repeat on opposite, so that only one foot is on the ground at a time. That's one rep.
- Start by lying on right side with right forearm on the ground parallel to top of mat, elbow under shoulder, left hand on hip, knees bent at 90 degrees with heels in line with glutes.
- Lift hips off mat to extend legs to straight until body forms long line from head to heels.
- Start lying on outside or right glute with right arm on the floor at 45-degree angle from body, palm down, legs together and lifted in air at 45 degrees, and left arm extended straight overhead.
- Push right palm into floor to rise up onto right forearm as you fold at waist, lifting legs and lowering left arm to touch forming a "V" shape with body.
- Lower back down without touching shoulders or feet to the floor. That's one rep.
- Start in a forearm plank with shoulders over elbows.
- Lower left knee until it taps the floor, return to start, and repeat with right knee. That's one rep.
- Start by lying on back with hands at sides and legs straight, feet flexed.
- Bring left knee and right hand together at hip level and actively push them into each other until abs begin to tremble. Hold for 10 seconds, then switch sides. That's one rep.
- Start at the back of mat on all fours with shoulders over wrists and hips over knees, toes tucked and knees hovering one inch off the floor.
- Step left hand and the right foot forward, keeping legs bent and hips level, then repeat on the other side, moving forward until fingers reach front of the mat.
- Reverse steps back to the start.
- Start by lying on back with legs bent, feet flat on the floor, head and shoulders curled up off of mat, and arms extended in air at sides, palms up.
- Then reach right pinky towards the same-side heel, come back to center and repeat on the left side. That's one rep.
- Begin on all fours, with palms flat on the floor (fingers facing forward) and wrists and elbows directly beneath shoulders. Knees should be directly below hips and neck should be long and neutral.
- Engage core, then slowly extend right arm forward and left leg back until both are parallel with the floor. This is your start position.
- With control, reach right arm out to the right side and left leg out to the left as far as possible while keeping back flat and level.
- Reverse and return to start position. That’s one rep.
- Start seated on the floor, arms bent, hands outside hips, fingers facing glutes, legs squeezed together and bent slightly, heels on mat.
- Push through palms to lift torso while rolling onto left hip and pulling knees into chest.
- Return to center, extend legs without letting heels touch floor, and repeat on the opposite side. That's one rep.
- Start in a side forearm plank position, with right forearm on floor, parallel to top of mat, elbow under shoulder, left arm extended straight in air at shoulder height, feet staggered and flexed.
- Rotate body forward toward mat and place left forearm down on floor behind and parallel to right coming into a forearm plank.
- Then, drop heels to left side and rotate body toward right side coming into a side forearm plank of opposite side. That's one rep.
- Start in a half-kneeling position with left leg forward and right leg back, both bent at 90 degrees, holding a kettlebell in left hand at shoulder height, right hand in fist resting on handle.
- In one motion, straighten left arm to bring the weight toward ceiling, while folding at waist to bring right palm to the ground outside left foot. (Gaze at weight while overhead.)
- Reverse movement to return to start. That's one rep.
- Start kneeling on mat with seat on heels and stability ball between hands.
- Lift arms up overhead, biceps by ears.
- Without moving lower body, bend at waist to lower stability ball toward left side of mat.
- Return to center and repeat on the right side. That's one rep.
- Start in a half-kneeling position with right leg forward and left leg back, both bent at 90 degrees, holding a medicine ball overhead.
- Rapidly bring the ball diagonally across body until it is in front of left thigh. Keep torso upright with shoulders and hips facing forward.
- Slowly raise ball to start position. That's one rep. Complete as many reps as possible for 45 to 60 seconds on each side.
- Stand up straight, with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Hold a dumbbell in your left hand and extend your right arm out to your side at a 45-degree angle from your body.
- Slowly lift your left leg up until you knee is at hip height.
- Then, with control, lower your leg down to the ground.
- Repeat on the other side. That's one rep.
- Start in a standing position at back of mat, holding a medicine ball at chest.
- Take a big step forward with left foot and lower into a lunge until both legs are bent to 90 degrees while extended arms to straight at shoulder height.
- Then, twist arms and torso over left leg, return to center, then step back to start.
- Repeat on the opposite side. That's one rep.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart holding a medicine ball in front of right hip.
- Rise up on balls of feet while lifting weight overhead and pivoting on right foot to turn body toward left side as you swing medicine ball in arc with force to bounce off ground outside left foot.
- Catch it and return to start. That's one rep.
- Place your forearms on a stability ball and extend your legs directly behind you into a high plank—your body should form a straight line from head to heels.
- Brace your abs and move your forearms in a full circle, so the stability ball moves as well, keeping the rest of your body still. That's one rep.
- Start in a standing position with feet under shoulders, right arm extended at side for balance, and left arm bent in front of body holding a kettlebell at shoulder height.
- Bend knees, keep chest up, and lower down into a squat.
- Push through heels to return to standing. That's one rep.
- Stand in a standing position with feet shoulder-width apart and hands behind head, elbows wide.
- Lift left knee to hip level and twist torso toward it bringing right elbow across body in a crunch.
- Return to start, then repeat on the opposite side. That's one rep.
- Start standing with feet just wider than hips, a kettlebell in right hand, right arm bent with elbow close to body so that the weight rests on shoulder, and left hand on hip.
- Sink hips slightly into a quarter-squat.
- Then, quickly push through feet to extend legs, simultaneously pressing kettlebell straight up until right arm is completely extended overhead.
- With control, lower kettlebell back down. That's one rep.