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Fact checked by Kirsten Yovino, CPT Brookbush InstituteFACT CHECKED
January 22, 2020
Health professionals, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts are progressively moving towards training that emphasizes treating the body as a single, integrated unit comprised of parts that are connected to each other through a series of "chains" (or "slings"). Why? Because this is how the body actually works! Our musculature is bridged together by converging pathways of fascia - spider web-like connective tissue and collagen under the skin that joins, stabilizes, encloses and divides muscles and internal organs - all working together to produce and stabilize movement patterns in the most optimal way. So, by understanding how the sling systems work, like the Oblique Slings, you can radically improve your exercises and workouts and the way your body moves.
Whether you were looking for oblique exercises or oblique sling exercises specifically, this article has you covered. We are going to break down how the oblique sling system works and then we will provide exercises for the obliques and the oblique slings using our favorite core/oblique training tools - steel maces and resistance bands - so you can improve the way you move in terms of stability, balance, rotational power, and your ability to accelerate and decelerate explosively. Moreover, these exercises will help you stay injury-free AND give you some ripped obliques.
If you are thinking "this is going to be complicated", don't worry because it really isn't at all, and it's well worth learning about.
As humans, we are three-dimensional creatures. We move in three dimensions, through our three planes of motion. So we must train that way for optimum success. Not only in the gym, but in our day-to-day life as well.
The oblique sling (which is also referred to as the oblique chain/system/loop) is a succession of musculature that extends from the underside of your shoulder to the side of the contralateral pelvis. Essentially, it loops around your torso diagonally on both sides and in both directions. Like an “X” that wraps around the trunk of your body.
The oblique sling is separated into both anterior (front) and posterior (back) oblique slings.
Anterior oblique sling: The anterior oblique sling comprises the external and internal obliques, the contralateral adductor muscle, and the linking adductor abdominal fascia.
Posterior oblique sling: The posterior oblique sling comprises the latissimus dorsi, the contralateral gluteus maximus, and the connecting thoracolumbar fascia.
The oblique sling consists of both muscle and myofascial tissue.
The oblique slings are incredibly important as your body relies on them to perform dynamic movements and maintain stability across multiple joints.
The oblique system aids in the transferring of force through the torso during rotational movements. This is why oblique sling exercises are emphasized and particularly important for rotational sports like baseball, golf, hockey, tennis, lacrosse, boxing, etc.
All in all, the oblique slings are incredibly vital for both a stable and dynamic foundation.
If you are an athlete and/or you perform offset movements and overhead lifts, the oblique sling exercises in this post are going to be tremendously helpful to you. Not only do oblique sling exercises improve your performance, but it also greatly reduces your chance of injury.
The oblique chain is incredibly important for our core as a whole. Having a strong core allows us to protect our spine and move in lateral, extension, and rotational patterns with power.
When looking at your body, your upperbody is connected to your lower body by your abdomen. There is no bony structure connecting them except your spine, so having strong abs, obliques and erector spinae muscles is really important for stabilizing your spine. Your spine doesn’t have anything stabilizing it in the front except your core muscles.
So, a strong core allows you to stabilize your back, which makes for much safer athletics and weight training. It also helps you with spinal longevity as you get older.
If you fire with your hips but you don’t have a strong core, your upper body gets lagged behind. The same thing when your upper body moves and your lower body lags behind. All in all, this leads to less power and explosiveness in your movements.
This particularly important in rotational sports, fitness and steel mace training.
Achieving these skills and attributes requires an ability to load and create length through your oblique sling. Think of the oblique sling like a whip. Learn how to crack that whip and you will improve your sports performance in amazing ways.
The oblique slings are also important for any multi-directional sports, like basketball, soccer and football, as they require an immense ability to accelerate and decelerate to be successful.
Creating rotational force is paramount, but being able to stop that force is equally essential.
For example, in boxing, powerful rotational force gives you knockout power. But without rotational stability, once you hit someone, you will be thrown out of balance, or worse, injured. So, rotational stability is just as important as you want to control that force in an equally powerful manner. This is called anti-rotation. Oblique sling training will give you both rotational force and rotational stability.
We are now going to show you a couple anterior oblique sling and core exercises, presented by Dr. Michael Risher.
With the band connected to the mace, you will have directional pull and resistance (towards the anchor point) in a way that allows for more control (thanks to the long lever of the mace). This allows for more variations. Moreover, the head of the mace makes it so the band won't slip off.
How to perform Banded Mace Wood Choppers:
This exercise can be done slow and controlled OR explosively.
Aim for 10 reps each side
Benefits of this exercise:
This one is great to do anytime, as it will greatly strengthen your oblique sling. But, it is a particularly useful exercise for warming up before an exercise/workout/activity that mixes an upper extremity with a lower extremity. Think throwing, swinging, sprinting.
This exercise is essentially the exact opposite. So, we will be moving/rotating from bottom to top (hip pocket to contralateral shoulder).
This is going to give us a great oblique chain activation and some upper body strengthening as well.
How to do Half-Kneeling Banded Mace Upper Cuts:
Aim for 10 reps each side. Make sure switch the kneeling position too. You want to be pushing towards the knee that is forward.
Benefits of this exercise:
Same as the one above. The reason you should do both is you want a well-balanced oblique sling. So going at it from both angles is necessary.
Although this exercise can be done with a cable pulley, we like to use the band and steel mace set up as you can adjust the difficulty with ease, and the mace adds an extra element to it. It’s similar to doing free weight vs machine exercises. Free weight is typically better.
How to do Banded Mace Pallof Presses/Twists:
So, those are two variations of the Pallof Press.
This one is great to add to your core routine.
Benefits of Banded Steel Mace Pallof Twists/Press:
This exercise is going to activate the oblique chain terrifically. It will incorporate dissociated upper body strengthening as well.
Variation 1 (steps 1-3) will train you for anti-rotation and core stability (necessary for spine stability). Variation 2 (steps 1-4) will work both rotation and anti-rotation, so it is great for an all around powerful core.
Note: Oblique sling exercises are not all about rotational movements, anti-rotation is equally important for a strong oblique system. So do both the press and twist variation for this oblique exercise.
These are oblique exercises that you can throw into a warm up to prime yourself for exercises that incorporate multiple planes of motion and both your upper and lower extremities OR you can throw it into a regular core routine to strengthen your abs and obliques.
With everything in life, we need a balance. To avoid any muscle imbalances and dysfunction, be sure to train your posterior oblique sling as well.
You may only think about your anterior obliques sling because those are the ones that give you that "ripped obliques" look, but definitely don’t neglect the posterior oblique system. The posterior oblique chain is the largest in your entire body. It helps you with everything from walking to stabilizing the lumbar spine, sacroiliac joint (SI Joint) and hips (lumbopelvic), as well as transferring force through your upper and lower extremities.
All in all, a strong core includes your back. It is immensely important for a healthy workout lifestyle.
Common signs of imbalances and dysfunction in the posterior oblique sling system:
Poster Oblique Sling Exercise Examples:
Single Leg Stiff-legged Deadlifts: For beginners, start without weight then progress to using a light dumbbell when ready.
Bird Dog: This is a bodyweight exercise taken from Yoga. If you want to increase the difficulty, you can anchor a band directly in front of your working side and grab it with the forward hand and pull it so your hand is perpendicular with your body (towards the floor).
During offset and unilateral exercises, you will be working your internal and external obliques as they are required to keep your spine stabilized.
So, if you want to target your obliques to greater effect, unilateral and offset exercises will help you achieve this.
Some of the Best Oblique Exercises:
Core specific oblique exercises:
The oblique sling is a major workhorse during steel mace training. The steel mace pulls you in a lot of different directions. So having a strong core/oblique system is really important for a safe and effective steel mace workout.
The same applies to other unconventional training modalities, like kettlebells, sandbags, Bulgarian bags, etc., and offset training in general, where rotation and anti-rotation is a major aspect of the workout.
Steel Mace training, in general, is great for the obliques as mentioned above, as it is an offset load that is moving you in many different directions, so you will need a lot of core stability.
Both steel maces and resistance bands are fantastic implements for the oblique slings as there's so much you can do with them in terms of rotation and anti-rotation, as you can see from reading above.
Bands are a must-have for the oblique slings in our opinion, especially if you don’t have access to cable pulleys.
As for steel maces, by the nature of its design, it’s going to work your obliques and your entire oblique chain. If you want ripped obliques that are equally as impressive looking as they are functional, a steel mace is the tool you want, bar none.
If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to leave them in the comments below or contact us directly!
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