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Give your sides some love! When people think about the "core", they usually only consider the rectus abdominis (aka the 6-pack muscle), and while there's nothing wrong with placing focus on your abs, the core is actually composed of multiple muscle groups that also need attention.
One of those is known as the internal and external obliques. Having a strong set of obliques is crucial to help with rotation and even more importantly, to resist rotation. But they do even more than that, such as enhancing your overall aesthetics.
So, with the obliques top of mind here, we are going to provide you with the 9 best oblique exercises to build an insanely powerful core.
Table of Contents:
Pay attention to the information because if you follow the advice in this guide, you're going to look better, perform better, and create a stronger core to decrease injury.
It's important to understand what the obliques are and do before getting into our list of best exercises. But if you're ready to immediately dive into the best oblique moves, keep scrolling.
Your obliques are two of four main abdominal muscles:
There are two sets of obliques, the internal and external, with one set lying beneath the other. The internal obliques sit superficial to the external obliques, and these two sets of muscles always work in unison but on opposite sides. This means your left internal oblique and right external oblique will fire together to create the same movement.
The main functions of the obliques are:
We just went over how the obliques work and what they're responsible for. Now let's look at the absolute best exercises you can do to train your obliques.
The 9 best oblique exercises are:
Let's discuss how to do each.
Let's get one thing straight. Farmer carries are simply one of the very best exercises you can do for your lower and upper body. Even though they are typically associated with the sport of Strongman, everyone should be doing them, as they improve overall muscular strength and improve your conditioning. Plus, you can also load them to hit different training variables such as improving your max strength, anaerobic capacity, or aerobic system.
A farmer's carry is performed simply by picking up two objects with one in each hand. Next, and this is the technical part, you walk. Yes, that’s really all there is to it. While there are some cues to follow (which we'll discuss below), farmer carries really are that easy to perform, at least from a technical standpoint.
We are concerned with the walking aspect because, as we mentioned above, our bodies will want to naturally sway back and forth when we walk. This tendency is only exacerbated when we hold two objects as we now have higher torque swinging through. What this does is it places an even higher demand on your core, including your obliques, to provide stabilization.
Pro Tip: For an even better oblique workout, carry two different-sized objects. This will cause even more instability in your walking.
How To Perform A Farmer Carry:
The next best oblique exercise is another carry, called a suitcase carry. Just like carrying a suitcase, this carry will have you carry one object in one hand at a time.
This will cause an even greater stimulus on your obliques as it must fire hard to prevent the body from bending over sideways under the weight of one heavy implement. In fact, this carry may even be better than the farmer's carry for isolating the obliques (but you still should do both!)
How To Perform A Suitcase Carry (basically the same exact thing as a farmer carry!):
The single-arm deadlift simply involves performing a deadlift with only one implement. Doing so will train the obliques in a very similar manner as a suitcase carry as the side not holding anything will be forced to fight the resistance from pulling them sideways. This is accomplished by the obliques firing to maintain stability.
The main difference between the suitcase carry and single-arm side deadlift is that the force is moving forward with a suitcase carry. With the single-arm side deadlift, the force occurs vertically, which could perhaps place more force on the obliques. Regardless, these work in the same manner as they contract to resist movement rather than cause movement. Remember, this is actually the primary function of your core! Flexing and rotating is incredible, but your core is designed to resist movement! This makes these movements authentic functional training.
How To Perform The Single-Arm Side Deadlift:
The Pallof press may be the simplest and most effective exercise that is never done. Named after the physical therapist John Pallof, the Pallof press is easily the best anti-rotation exercise that you can do. It's straightforward and will work your obliques like no other.
To perform the Pallof press, a pulley system works best. However, you could create a similar stimulus using resistance bands as well. The Pallof press has you stand so that your body is in line with the path of resistance. You then grab the puller or band and bring it up to your chest.
Next, you push your arms out, which will cause the line to pull, thus lifting the weight. As your arms go out, resistance is applied to them, and the arms begin to act a lever as the force will want to rotate the body back towards the resistance. To counteract this rotation, your obliques will have to fire to resist the rotation. Just remember to do both sides!
How To Perform The Pallof Press:
Woodchoppers are an awesome exercise that kill the obliques AND are incredibly versatile. Hence the name, they mimic chopping wood's motion but actually utilize anti-rotation and downward flexion. The movement will require rotation at the hip and some flexion as you pull the resistance downwards.
When you perform the movement, be sure to keep the arms straight out in front of the body. Some trainees will accidentally pull with the arms to move the weight, so let the obliques rotate the torso to move the weight.
How To Perform Woodchoppers:
Variations Of Woodchoppers:
There are also other variations of the woodchopper that you can utilize just to change things up:
After performing normal woodchoppers, these are easy to throw in just to add a different stimulus.
Barbell rollouts are simply the best core exercise there is. And yes, we mean that. Multiple studies have shown that barbell rollouts (or variation) illicit maximal activation for every basically core muscle there is, including the obliques1. In this manner, the obliques will work in conjunction with the other core muscles to provide maximal stabilization to the core, which is due to the extreme amount of stress placed on the body to keep the hips from falling.
You can perform this movement from the knees or standing. The "rollout" part is the same as the starting position. Further, one of the great things about barbell rollouts is that you can use more plates to create a greater load. This is because the force needed to roll back will be greater. This makes it extremely easy to apply progressive overload.
How To Perform Barbell Rollouts:
Side crunches are crunches done on your side. Instead of coming forward, your body will move up laterally with your elbow moving toward your head. This is a great isolation exercise for the obliques and works contrary to side bends, making them great complementary exercises.
How To Do Side Crunches:
Russian twists are great at training the rotational function of the obliques, assuming you're rotating the toro. The number one error occurs when people perform Russian twists to train the obliques and concentrate too much on touching each side with their hand rather than twisting their torso. In other words, they are focusing too much on the wrong variable.
While you should feel either side of the ground, you do so by rotating your entire torso, not simply reaching with your hands. If you get that right, you then have yourself a great exercise.
How To Perform Russian Twists:
Russian Twist Variations:
Performing Russian twists as described is a great beginner oblique exercise. However, eventually, you will need to up the intensity. There are two ways to do this:
This move is extremely easy, possibly overused, and often poorly executed. However, using them in conjunction with other exercises is a great way to add this stimulus. Let's see how to properly perform side bends.
How To Perform Side Bends:
Oblique training, and core training in general, are often performed incorrectly. First, we'll point out some common errors and then show you how to remedy them.
Many people simply don't train the core "frequently" enough. Emphasis on frequent. The core is one of the most used muscles we have, meaning that you would likely get better results by training it with fewer exercises more frequently.; even more than other muscles. Basically, instead of having 4 core exercises on one day, train 1 core exercise during 4 sessions.
As mentioned, not enough frequency is related to having a "core day". The core muscles are just like any other muscle in that "destroying your muscle" isn't a good thing in balancing proper recovery. Further, you are only training them once a week with purpose, leaving an entire week of no stimulus. There are many nuances there as compound lifts are actually great core exercises, but we are talking about specific movements. Regardless, spread your core training throughout the week and utilize two movements with intensity. Then go home. There's no need to obliterate your core.
This is one of the least talked about core training errors. When people train their core, it's often with very high reps (15+). Again, your core is a muscle, so would you only train your chest with very light loads? Of course not! There's this idea that only very high volumes for hypertrophy will work for the core muscles when you need to use some strength movements! Therefore, start using some heavy exercises with your oblique training and use the entire rep scheme. Since loads are hard to measure, think about a movement that only allows 6 reps max.
Remember, your core consists of four major muscle groups, including the obliques. Further, each muscle group has more than one function. Therefore, why do people only do some sort of spinal flexion movement like a crunch or sit up, or an anti-flexion movement such as a GHD?
Here's just a shortlist of other movement patterns you need to include:
Now you don't need to hit all of these movement patterns every week, but you should run across at least one exercise to address each pattern every 2 or 3 weeks.
Also, keep in mind that farmer carries, single hand deadlift, and suitcase carries can be performed in your training as total body exercise and not specific “core” exercises. This means that on leg day, you could perform:
Image courtesy of Marcus Filly's Instagram
While many people may do lateral bends, the obliques are often a side-note when training the "core" as the rectus abdominis takes the main stage. While you should definitely still train the 6-pack muscle, you need to share some of that specific ab workout time with the obliques.
Training the obliques will have a massive effect on your performance and your physique. If you want to sculpt a thick-set core, this can only be done by giving the oblique muscles some love, utilizing exercises that cover all of its movement patterns and allow for heavier loads.
Use the exercises we just went over in a cyclical pattern, and you'll be sporting a mean set of obliques in no time.
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