We can’t fault sit-ups, reverse crunches and plank holds for strengthening our core muscles. But if they’re the only moves that your ab workout includes, then you’re probably only getting half the job done. That’s because we need to think about working the side muscles – the obliques – as well as the front of the abdominal muscles.
“You’ve got to train your entire core to make sure that it’s strong enough to support your back, improve your posture and prevent you from getting any injuries,” says Emma Obayuvana, fitness trainer from the Strong Women Training Club.
In fact, oblique training is really important to help with the movement of the spine. That’s because the muscles are used in the spine’s different functions: lateral flexion (bending sideways), flexion (rounding the spine) and rotation (twisting from side to side).
“To train our obliques and help to build a strong, well rounded core, we need to think about twisting movements that target the side of the body,” says Emma. Here, she’s shared some of her favourite exercises to do, whether you dedicate an entire training session to your core or like to pop one or two moves onto the end of each training session.
Plank with knee to elbow
1. Come into a strong plank position (either on your hands or forearms).
2. Lift one foot off of the ground and bring the knee towards the elbow of the same side. Don’t rock your hips or shoulders to the side, but maintain a neutral position.
2. Squeeze through the core and side body before returning to a plank position and repeating on the other side.
“These can be done with your body weight, or while holding a kettlebell or a dumbbell,” says Emma.
1. Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you.
2. Lift your feet off the ground and slightly lean backwards. If you want to, lift your feet off the floor for an extra challenge.
3. Squeeze your core and twist from side to side, tapping your arms on the floor on either side of your hips. Try to make the movement come from your obliques, rather than momentum.
Side plank variations
“These are amazing for the obliques, as we have to engage the side body to hold ourselves up,” says Emma. A simple side plank will do the job, but you can mix it up with other variations too. For example, doing side plank dips, where you drop the hip to the floor in the side plank and push up through the obliques to come back to the top position.
And side plank crunches, where you bring the knee of the top leg and the elbow of the top arm to meet in the middle of your core: “I love this one and do it a lot in the Strong Women Instagram Lives. But this one isn’t about crunching forwards, it’s about keeping the chest up and open and using the side body to pull your knee and elbow together,” says Emma.
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Strength training: standing ab exercises for a stronger core
1. Lie on your back and interlace your fingers behind your head, lifting your shoulders off the floor.
2. Bring your legs into a table top position, so they’re bent at 90 degrees.
3. Twist through your core to bring your left elbow to your right knee. As you do so, extend your left leg out straight so it hovers above the floor.
4. Move back to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
Squat to twist
“This is a standing, compound move that really targets the obliques,” says Emma.
1. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in your hands at chest height, and stand with your feet a little wider than hip-width.
2. Engage your core and squat down so your knees are bent to 90 degrees or more.
3. Press up through the heels and, as you come up, rotate through the torso and twist to face the left side.
4. Bring your body back to centre as you lower down again and repeat on the other side.
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).