Want the tapered waistline of a fitness model? Streamline your sides with these can’t-miss moves for obliques.
Mehmet Edip for Muscle & Fitness 1 / 8
When training for a killer midsection, one area most guys forget to train is their obliques. These long muscles, when well trained and when bodyfat is low, fully frame your rectus abdominis (read: your six-pack) and give your waist a more tapered look. They are the aesthetic finish that separate great midsections from average ones.
But how are you meant to train your obliques? If you said, “More side crunches,” then we weep for you. Contrary to our collective, stale mindset about training these muscles, there are actually many exercises you can use. Here are seven of our favorites, based on overall effectiveness.
Obliques against resistance, baby. Your unweighted side crunches are a fine move to create some engagement with your obliques but if you always train them that way, then chances are they stopped responding long ago. The addition of some weight will help you reinvigorate these muscles. And before you say it, no…resistance training your for your abs will not result in a thick, blocky middle.
Do it Right: Attach a rope to a cable tower, and move the cable to the highest pulley position. Grab both handles of the rope and then kneel down onto one knee, your shoulders perpendicular to the stack. With arms extended over the opposite shoulder, look straight ahead and pull the rope across your body finishing the movement at waist level. Slowly bring the weight back to the start position and repeat movement. Be sure to keep your core and abs tight at all times. Try 3-4 sets of 8-10 controlled reps followed immediately by a single, lighter set of 20-25.
Hanging knee raises suck. It’s murder on your hard-earned callouses, it strains your shoulders and it’s tough to eliminate sway. But for those willing to master hanging abdominal work, great rewards await. By bringing your pelvis toward your rib cage, you emphasize the lower half of your abs. And when you add the slight twist that’s called for on this oblique move, you truly get to experience what advanced oblique work should feel like.
Do it Right: Use the same starting position as the tried-and-true hanging knee raise. With your knees bent, bring your legs up toward your right underarm and hold the contraction. Go back to the start position and then repeat the movement to the other side. Try alternating sides for a set of 10-12 total reps for 3-4 sets.
Again, side crunches on the floor will only get you so far. You can replicate that motion from a standing position with this exercise…and against resistance, which is likely a missing element of your obliques training.
Do it Right: Set up the high-pulley cable machine by attaching a D-handle and selecting the weight you want to use. Starting on your right side, grasp the handle slightly behind your head, feet shoulder-width apart. Crunch your right obliques hard to pull the weight down and hold for a peak contraction before resisting the weight back up. Do all reps for one side before switching. Perform 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps.
Know the only thing better than training obliques? Training obliques with a buddy. This throwback move from high school P.E. class will work the obliques rotationally and with resistance.
Do it Right: You and your partner kneel down facing away from each other but as close as possible. Keep your abdominals contracted and hold the ball with perfect posture, then slowly twist to one side and pass the ball off to your partner. Return to the other side to retrieve the ball. Continue for 30-90 seconds, going one way. Repeat, going the other direction.
While you have your partner handy, you might want to enlist him for another oblique-shredding move. You might already be familiar with “throwdowns,” where you have a partner throw your ankles toward the floor as you resist with all the strength your lower abs can muster. Well, this is it’s evil, obliques-focused cousin.
Do it Right: Lay with your back on the floor, placing your head between your standing partner's feet. Reach back and hold your partner’s ankles or calves securely with your hands. This provides leverage and stability while performing the exercise. Bend your knees slightly and slowly raise your legs up towards your partner. Allow your hips to roll up off the floor as you elevate your ankles to your partner’s chest. Then, the fun begins. Have your partner throw your legs down forcefully downward to your left or right, alternating direction each time. Resist the force, trying as hard as you can to keep your ankles at his chest and don’t let your feet touch the ground. Try 2-3 sets of 12-16 reps, going to each side 6-8 times.
Your bicycle crunch…you’re doing it wrong. We see it everyday, guys motoring through these sets with the vigor of a real-life cyclist on an uphill sprint. Abs unengaged, no extension. One simple solution for this potentially effective exercise: slow it down, man.
Do it Right: Lie face up on your mat and place your hands behind your head, lightly supporting it with your fingers. Bring the knees into the chest and lift the shoulder blades off the floor without pulling on the neck. Rotate to the left, bringing the right elbow towards the left knee as you fully straighten the other leg. Pause for a count, then switch sides, bringing the left elbow towards the right knee. Make this exercise harder by fully extending your legs in the start position, feet six inches above the ground, and initiating your reps from there – each time, your feet should return to this fully extended position. Controlling your reps in this way will decrease the amount of effective work you can do. Try 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps total (5-6 each side).
In Mother Russia, you don’t work obliques, obliques work you! At least it will feel that way when you master this move. This move engages your lower abs to stabilize your body in the start position before leaving your obliques to do all the twist-y awfulness that this move portends. The good news is that it has room for more advanced variations with resistance and that your obliques are sure to enjoy plenty of muscle-building breakdown along the way.
Do it Right: Lie down on the floor and anchor your feet under something heavy, have a partner hold them, or set yourself up on a specialty bench. Your legs should be bent at the knees. Elevate your upper body to about 45 degrees and hold that position. Extend your arms in front of you, approximately parallel to your thighs. Twist your torso to the right side as far as you can while exhaling. Hold the contraction for a second and move back to the starting position while breathing out. Now move to the opposite side performing the same techniques you applied to the right side. To make this move tougher, you can hold a dumbbell or weight plate at full extension or do it on a decline bench. Aim for 3-4 sets of 16-18 reps total. Keep your rep pace moderate and make sure you come to a deliberate stop before going to the other side on each rep.