I was asked today what some of my favorite core exercises were. Although the list is long, I thought starting with a single group can be helpful, and I picked the obliques. Before I post some of the typical routines I go through on most days, it’s worth mentioning that it’s important to look at the anatomy of abdominals before you embark on an ambitious journey to 4, 6, or 8 packs. What I have often seen is that many go for a high number of identical sets instead of targeting the numerous muscles by diversifying their core work outs. So my advice would be: target the full number of abdominal muscles–from the large and favorite “pack,” to the tiniest constituents of the obliques. Go for more than crunches. It’s amazing how difficult basic motions such as lifting a bar off the ground up above your head with extended arms is, and how much it targets abdominal musculature. So go for a wide range of motions, do not be afraid to use weights, and learn what different muscles contribute to motions that may appear unrelated to your tummy. Lastly, go hard, but know your body. Challenging yourself does not mean you should end up injured.
I think it’s important to mention that the best way to fully address a muscle group is to first know any and all muscles that comprise it, their function, and connectedness with other muscles. In the case of obliques, it is useful to perform a routine which addresses the internal and external oblique muscles, as well as the rectus abdominis, the serratus anterior, and the transverse abdominal muscles. Although unequally large (or small), all these muscles constitute the “obliques” and play a critical role in core strength, stability, balance and tone.
Rule #1: do not be afraid to use weights.
The obliques are very strong and supple muscles. They assist in rotation, compression of the abdominals, trunk and hip flexion, stabilization of the trunk. In other words, each time you rotate your upper body, bend forward, exhale, walk and run, or balance, you use your obliques. Naturally, exercises that effectively recruit those muscles include variations of movements you would normally perform with the help of your obliques, but you can add difficulty by adding weight, resistance, or intensity to those movements. In those cases, be very well aware of your form, and control a well-understood motion at all times. Otherwise, you risk injury.
I weigh only 110 pounds, but I exercise my obliques with a 44 pound weight, held in one hand. Stand straight, feet at shoulder width, be solid in your stance. do not rotate your hips, plant your feet, shoulders back, chin slightly up. From the torso, bend sideways until the dumbbell you are holding reaches the side of your knee. Be sure to control this motion at all times, do not bend forward or backward, do not reverse the motion until you have bent to the other side, move slowly and return to your original up straight position. Do 30 reps, switch the weight to your other hand, and do 30 reps in this respective direction. Do 2 sets of 30.
Over time, this will increase the definition of an elongated muscle that “hugs” the “6 pack” (the internal oblique) as well as strengthen and define the external oblique and the serratus anterior. It will assist in the growth of the rectus abdominis and the transversis abdominis, improve your balance and overall core strength.