Swimsuit season is here! Finally! While this is great news for many, there is also that slight feeling of panic and anxiety for many people who worry that their bodies- especially areas that they are more self-conscious about showing off, such as their stomach- are hyper-focused on working out their abs while the weather is hot and pool season is here.
Let's admit it, we all want to have a nice summer six pack with shredded obliques, right? Seeing as "Oblique Workout" was one of the top 10 most googled workout, exercise and diet searches for 2017, it seemed only reasonable to assume that many people are looking for a way to tone up that area, especially during the summer months. Though we focus on this area mostly when the weather is nice, it is important to keep focused on working out our abdominals, specifically the oblique muscles (the muscles on each side of your torso) throughout the year. That way, come summer, you will not be starting from square one but will simply targeting this area a little harder than usual. If you focus on this area consistently, it is easier to quickly tone up your midsection for the summer.
If you are somebody that has good genes in the toned abs department, lucky you! You'll likely need a little less focus in that area of your workout. If you are somebody (like me) that has a little more trouble with keeping your abs toned, then you might have to hit them more. Since the good genes thing may be wishful thinking, those of us who waited until the last minute to target their workout on their abs might be wondering if there anything we can do at this point to tone up quickly? Certainly there is, and that's we will focus on today.
**To skip right to the workout, scroll all the way down!
But first- what are obliques muscles?
The external obliques are the muscles that allow the trunk of your body to twist – this is controlled by the external oblique muscle on the opposite side of the direction that you’re twisting. For example, if you are twisting to the left, you are using your right external oblique. The external obliques also help with your overall posture, pulling your chest downwards, which compresses the abdominal cavity and protects your organs by creating intra-abdominal pressure (just as with the rectus abdominis). Although relatively minor in scope, the external oblique muscle also supports the rotation of the spine.You may not know it, but there are actually 2 distinct sets of oblique muscles: your external obliques and your internal obliques. The external oblique muscles, one of the largest parts of the trunk area, are the outermost abdominal muscles (sitting outside the rectus abdominus muscles) extending from the lower half of the ribs around and down to the pelvis. Its lowest part connects to the the top corner of the pelvis (called the crest of the ilium), the bottom-front of the pelvis (the pubis), and the linea alba, a band of fibers that runs vertically along the inside of the abdominal wall. Together, the external oblique muscles cover the sides of the abdominal area. The intercostal and subcostal nerves connect the external oblique muscles to the brain.
The internal obliques are also responsible for twisting and turning, but they control the other side of the movement. For example, when you twist to the right, you are contracting both your right internal oblique and your left external oblique at the same time. Since they control the movement on the same side of your body, internal obliques are sometimes referred to as “same side rotators”. Think of your internal oblique muscles as kind of being the opposite of the external oblique. They are located directly below the rectus abdominis, and sit just inside your hip bones.
The internal oblique muscles support the abdominal wall, assist in forced respiration, aid in raising pressure in the abdominal area, and rotate and turn the trunk with help from other muscles.
Why are they so important to target in the first place?
Though we are all desire to achieve that washboard ab look, the abs muscles include a handful of different muscle groups, including the obliques as described above- and it's important to train them all for different reasons. Reasons for focusing on your midsection may vary from trying to get stronger, protecting your body from injury, or trying to get more visible muscle definition. Most of us picture the six pack abs when we think about core workouts. The particular core muscles are also known as rectus abdominis. These muscles are positioned between the ribs and the pubic bone at the front of the pelvis and are made up of 8 distinct muscle bellies. When the muscle contracts, these muscle bellies are visible, assuming low enough levels of body fat, creating that ‘six-pack’ look.
The entire core helps us stay balanced and perform a ton of exercises without falling over or straining our backs, but the obliques in particular have an important role. We use them every time we twist our torsos, or bend down to one side or the other. The obliques help stabilize us and keep our torso protected. Specifically, there's less of a chance your lower back is going to become strained if you have strong obliques that can help support your body through any twisting or turning movement. Training and building strong obliques muscles is essential to helping us perform better in exercise, sports, and everyday functional movements. Other huge benefits of strengthening your obliques are to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes (which is commonly linked to excess abdominal fat) and improve performance in physical activities involving quick movements and twisting.
To start working those ever-important obliques, grab your Pogamat and find a good, clear space to do these exercises. Some of these may require some props such as dumbbells, a barbell, or a medicine/bosu ball but if you don’t have those, there are alternative exercise options to get you started. Add these exercises into your next strength training session or at the end of a cardio workout to really target your sides. The great news is that many of these exercises will also work other parts of your core, upper body, and booty!
Exercises That Target You Oblique Muscles:
… FOR STRENGTH, POWER, AND FUNCTION
DUMBBELL SIDE BEND:
Stand up straight holding a weight in one hand or a barbell behind your shoulders. Bend only at the waist to the side as far as possible. Hold for a second and come back up to the starting position.
** If you are at the gym you can also do this exercise by positioning yourself sideways on the hyperextension machine with your hips at the top of the pads.
Sit with your legs slightly bent, crossed at the ankles and lifted slightly off the ground. Hold a plate in front of your abdominals with your arms bent. Move the plate to the side and touch the floor with it. Come back up and repeat on the other side.
Lie flat on your back on a mat with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Place your right hand behind your right ear (and left hand behind left ear). Crunch your midsection up and across, trying to touch your right elbow to your left knee. Concentrate on contracting your midsection throughout the movement. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
SINGLE LEG SIDE PLANK:
Start in a side plank or elbow plank position stacking your right leg over your left. Contract your core and raise your hips until your body is in a straight line from head to feet. Rest your right hand on your right thigh or in front of you on the ground for more support. Raise your right leg as high as you can and then raise your right arm to the sky so it is nearly perpendicular to the floor. Bring your arm and leg back down to return to a straight line position.
*** Uplevel: To give the obliques a little extra workout, try this on the rounded side of a bosu ball. Before returning to starting position, try bringing your knee and elbow toward your chest before lowering down to starting position.
… FOR STRENGTHENING YOUR CORE & MAINTAINING A SMALL WAIST
PUSH-UP TO SIDE PLANK:
Do a push-up. At the top, twist into a side plank, raising the top arm. Lower your arm and do another push-up, then twist up to a side plank on the other side.
SEATED BARBELL TWIST:
Sit on a flat bench or in a chair with your feet firmly on the floor. Place a barbell on your shoulders, keeping your back straight and upright. Slowly twist your torso to the left, pause for a moment and then move back to the center. You can do continuous repetitions on the same side and then move to the other side. Or, you can target both sides by twisting to the left, returning to the center and then twisting to the right to complete a full repetition. Keep your back straight and your head up, while keeping your abs constantly contracted throughout the entire exercise.
Lie on your side with your right leg on top of your left. Put your right hand behind your head, elbow flared out, and the other on the floor in front of you for balance. Contract your obliques to bring your right leg and elbow together, then slowly lower. Perform all your reps on one side before swapping. Do all the reps for one side, then switch sides.
Lie on your back with your abdominals pulled in and your hands behind your head. Bring your knees up to your chest and slowly go through a cycling motion. Crunch and touch your left elbow to your right knee and then change to the right elbow and left knee. Make sure you are lifting your shoulder blades and upper back off the floor as you rotate from side to side. Breathe out as you crunch or rotate and breathe in as you come back to the center.
There you have it, eight exercises that will give you something to bare at the beach and leave you well on your way to building a body you'll be proud to show off. Strip away the fat that covers your abs by updating your ab routine with these moves and giving your workout a refresher. You’ll be feeling great in no time!