Core exercises train the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips and abs to work in harmony, leading to better balance and stability. When you train your core, other exercises, as well as every day movements, get easier.
And whilst we can’t fault sit ups, reverse crunches and plank holds for strengthening our core muscles, if they’re the only moves that your ab workout includes, then you’re probably only getting half the job done. Rather than only focusing on the front abdominal muscles, we need to think about working the side muscles – the obliques – too.
“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 Collective.
In fact, oblique training is really important to help with the movement of the spine. The three functions of the muscles include lateral flexion (bending sideways), flexion (rounding the spine) and rotation (twisting from side to side), helping us to bend and move properly.
“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 a knee to elbow
1. In a strong plank position, either high or low, lift one foot off of the ground and bend the knee so that it comes up towards the elbow of the same side arm.
2. Squeeze through the core and side body before returning to a plank position and repeating.
“These can be done with your bodyweight, a kettlebell or a dumbbell,” says Emma.
1. Sitting on the floor, lift the feet off the ground and lean backwards slightly, engaging the core.
2. From here, twist from side to side, tapping your arms on the floor on either side of your hips.
3. If you are using a weight, hold it in your hands as you twist from the core.
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. Lying on your back, place your hands behind your head.
2. Lift your legs off the ground and, keeping the left leg hovering above the floor, bring the right leg up to tabletop position.
3. At the same time, twist your torso so that the right knee comes to meet your left elbow.
4. 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 as you squat.
2. When you press up, rotate through the torso before lowering back down and repeating 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).