While the 6-pack gets most of the attention, four ab muscles play significant roles in everything from breathing to performance. They are the:
- Rectus abdominis
- External oblique
- Internal oblique
- Transverse abdominis.
Your oblique muscles are responsible for rotating your torso. Baseball pitchers, tennis players and boxers are examples of athletes who use the obliques a lot. While they’re known for rotation, the obliques also help you breathe properly and keep your pelvis from tilting forward, which would cause your lower back to arch.
Doing crunches, planks and leg raises helps develop your rectus abdominis, which is the six-pack muscle, but can leave the obliques weak and under-developed.
By targeting your obliques with these six exercises, you can increase sports performance, keep your back healthy and bring out those muscles on the side of your six-pack.
This exercise is the perfect introduction to oblique exercises. It targets the muscles on the sides of your abdomen, but it doesn’t include any rotation. This lowers your risk of injury but doesn’t mean the exercise is easy.
The move: Lie on your side, propped up on your elbow. Stack your feet and legs on top of each other. Keep your forearm flat on the ground and hand pointed forward. Lift your hips off the ground to form a straight line with your body.
Hold this position for as long as possible. Then, take a break and switch sides. Try to hold for the same amount of time on each side.
Certified personal trainer Chelsey Yearian likes the suitcase carry because you get a lot of bang for your buck. You don’t even need a kettlebell to do the exercise, carrying groceries in one hand and walking is enough. Not only will you work your obliques, but your arms, back, shoulders, grip and legs also contribute to the exercise.
The move: Grab a kettlebell with one hand and stand up. Keep the kettlebell against your side with your arm straight. Walk, maintaining an upright posture, without leaning to one side. Walk slowly and with purpose. Go for 30 seconds on one side, then switch sides.
Medicine Ball Rotational Throws
Since the obliques help you rotate, it makes sense that a medicine ball rotational throw would work the muscles on the side of your core. This is an explosive exercise, and you’ll want a brick or concrete wall to throw the medicine ball against. If you do it correctly, the medicine ball will have plenty of force behind it.
The move: Stand perpendicular to the wall you’re going to throw the ball at. Stand at least 6 feet away. Hold the medicine ball with both hands underneath, like you’re holding a bowl of soup. Reach the ball behind your body, then twist and throw the ball at the wall. Pick it up and repeat on the same side for 10 reps, then switch sides.
Ab Wheel Rollout
The ab wheel rollout works the obliques and the rectus abdominis effectively, according to a February 2017 study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics. Even though it doesn’t involve rotation, your obliques are working to keep your pelvis in line with your rib cage and prevent your lower back from arching.
The move: Start kneeling on the ground with the ab wheel in front of you. Drop your hips forward so your body is in a straight line from your shoulders to your hips. Then, reach your arms out while keeping your back flat. Reach out as far as you can, then pull the wheel back. Repeat for as many reps as possible.
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Single-Leg Stance Anti-Rotation Press
Sean Light, owner of 4A Health and former Los Angeles Lakers trainer uses this exercise to isolate each side of the obliques. It’s a functional exercise because it involves the adductor and hamstring muscles of the leg, according to Light. He uses the exercise to help athletes perform better or to keep the average person healthy and injury-free.
The move: Start the single-leg anti-rotation press by tying a resistance band around a fixed object at shoulder-height. Grab the band with both hands then step out to feel the resistance. Face perpendicular to the band.
Your feet should be a bit wider than shoulder-width. Lean on your outside leg and step back slightly with your inside leg. Form a straight line from your nose, the outside knee and your toes of the same leg. Feel your inner thigh and hamstring turn on in the outside leg. Press the band out in front of you and hold for 30 seconds, feeling your abs the whole time. Then, switch sides.
Wide Stance Cable Rotation
This is a rotational exercise that targets your oblique muscles. Using a cable machine allows you to add more weight to strengthen the muscles, but gives you enough control that you don’t fear injury.
The move: Set a cable machine to shoulder-height. Grab the handle and step away from the machine. Face perpendicular to the cable. Set your feet at least 4- or 5-feet wide and lock out your knees. Keeping your elbows straight, rotate until the handle is past your shoulders, then slowly reverse the rotation.
Do 8–10 reps on each side. Make sure your hips don’t rotate as you turn; all the rotation should come from your ribs and shoulders. It’s similar to a backhand motion in tennis.
Check out “Workout Routines” in the app to discover and log a wide variety of routines, or build your own routine with exercises that fit your goals.