I can think of a lot of traditional exercises used to target the obliques.
These muscles are located on the sides of the torso and, when visible, create a V- shape.
This is a desirable look for a lot of gym goers.
The typical exercises used to train the obliques are crunches with a twist, Russian twists, side bends, rotational situps, and more.
I do not believe that those exercises are the best way to train the obliques or even if the muscle should be trained by itself.
What is the role of the obliques?
The main role that most people are concerned with when it comes to this muscle group is rotation of the torso.
Twisting movements have long been seen as the best way to train these muscles but they are not the most efficient.
Stuart McGill has a graph in Low Back Disorders that shows activation of the obliques in common exercises. The side plank came out with the highest.
Rotations and crunch variations were not even close.
The purpose of the side plank is to resist lateral bending and rotation. The resistance is the key because the obliques are rotators but they are more importantly anti-rotators.
They may be able to rotate but that does not mean it is their true function.
The Side Bend
At the risk of losing your attention with science talk, the side bend results in minimal activation of the obliques.
It is really an exercise for quadrates lumborum, a muscle on the lower back.
It is responsible for stability of the spine in resisting lateral bending. Bending the spine is not a good idea because it puts the structures at high risk of damage with little to no reward.
Weighted side bends do not train the obliques and are more likely going to give you back trouble than a six pack.
Anti- Rotation Exercises
I love side planks because they were a life saver when my I hurt my back, so I continue to do them every day.
If we are going to remove exercises from our programs we need to replace them with something else.
Here are some of my favorites
The pallof press is one of my favorites so it got its own post already. Take a look at it.
Split Stance Anti- Rotation Chops
The idea of this exercise is to avoid any and all rotation in order to move the cable. This is a great challenge of core stability that will make you work hard.
Wide Stance Anti- Rotation Chops
Yes, this is a misleading title.
1. There is rotation in the exercise. It occurs at the hips and not at the spine. The core says stable the whole time.
2. The anti- rotation component comes in the sense that the rope never goes back towards the cable stack.
This is not a core rotation exercise but instead a hip rotation exercise. The hips are not pinned down which would force the spine to rotate.
These are another great variation to try.
Whenever I talk about core training I want to achieve the best results in the safest way possible. What we know about training the abs is outdated and the long term effects of that “burn” are not usually documented.
Train for anti- rotation to best activate the obliques and preventing your spine from bending in half.