8 trainers share the best moves for working your obliques—and there’s not a side plank in sight

September 13, 2019 Off By

There are so many exercises you can use to work your core. Crunches, sit-ups, leg raises… the list is never-ending. Located on the sides of the abdominals muscles, the obliques can be particularly tricky to isolate. And since no one wants to do side planks for the rest of their life, I asked a crew of top trainers to lend some advice.

If you want super strong abs, you need to target the internal and external obliques to help you bend and twist, support your back, and keep your posture in check.

The best oblique exercises, according to top trainers

1. Oblique marches

“Oblique marches not only fire up your obliques. The total-body move also challenges your balance and recruits other muscles as well.” Gerren Liles, Hyperwear athlete and Equinox master trainer

How to do it:

  1. Hold one medium or heavy dumbbell in your right hand, with elbows locked, and the weight about a hand-length away from your hip.
  2. Start to march in place, driving your knees up to hip level, without allowing your center of gravity to shift as you’re raising your legs. Stay as upright as possible.
  3. March for about 30 to 45 secs and then switch sides. Repeat for three to five sets.

2. Pallof press

“The Pallof press is not just one of my favorite oblique exercises, but it’s one of the best exercises for the core, period. This movement targets overall core stability and also activates the glutes and scapular muscles, strengthening your core and warming up the rest of your body in a short amount of time.” Matt Tralli, trainer at Dogpound

How to do it:

  1. Start by attaching a resistance band to an anchored stationary object at chest height.
  2. Place your body perpendicular to the band. Grab the band with both hands, interlocking your fingers together.
  3. Step away from the stationary object to create tension on the band. The further you step away with the band, the more challenging the exercise becomes.
  4. With both hands holding the band, extend your arms directly out from your chest and hold.
  5. Keeping your shoulders back, chest out, and abs pulled in, slowly bring the band back to your chest. You can do this for 10 to 20 reps, or for 30 to 60 seconds.

3. Standing weighted side bends

“I love this move because I don’t have to crunch—I can do it standing. I get to use heavy weights to train my obliques, and I really feel it work.” Autumn Calabrese, creator of 21 Day Fix and 80 Day Obsession

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet hip width apart. Hold a medium to heavy dumbbell in your right hand at your side. Place the left hand on the left side of the body’s obliques. This way, you can really feel them work.
  2. Bend laterally to the right, letting the right hand and dumbbell slide down the side of your thigh to the top of your knee.
  3. Squeezing the obliques, slowly—and with control—return to the starting position. Squeeze the abdominals, holding them in tight to protect your back.
  4. Perform two to three sets of 15 to 20 reps on each side. I like to use a 25-pound dumbbell for this move. It should be something that challenges you but isn’t so heavy that you can’t perform the move properly.

4. Russian twist into hollow body hold

“My favorite oblique move packs a one-two punch. A Russian twist is a full torso twist that activates your obliques fully. By adding a hollow body hold and then coming back to the starting position, you’re putting your obliques—and the rest of your core—into overdrive.” Jen Tallman, spin instructor and fitness instructor in New York City

How to do it:

  1. Sit on your mat and hold a light to medium weight in front of your chest, or link your hands together.
  2. Keeping your shoulders back, chest up, and heels planted or lifted off the ground, start to lean back until you feel your core catching you.
  3. Twist your entire torso to one side and tap the weight or your hands on the ground. Repeat on the other side.
  4. Raise the weight or your arms above your head and extend out into a hollow body hold with your biceps by your ears and legs hovering over the ground.
  5. Return to your starting position without fully sitting up and try to keep your heels up. Do two to three sets of 10 reps.

5. Arm farmer’s walk

“This exercise is effective in targeting the obliques in a dynamic fashion. Since the weight wants to pull the body into lateral flexion (or a side bend), the obliques must counter through stabilization of the opposite side.” —Eric Johnson and Ryan Johnson, HOMAGE Fitness

How to do it:

  1. Deadlift a kettlebell or dumbbell from the floor with a single arm.
  2. Keeping the weight on the same side as the hand holding it, maintain a position of two to three inches off your side, almost as you were to do a lateral raise.
  3. Now, walk like you’re carrying a bag of heavy groceries. The key is to maintain a normal locomotive posture even though the weight is creating a force in the sagittal plane.
  4. Pick a distance to walk to, or count your steps. Once you reach your destination, make a big half circle while maintaining that posture and return to your starting spot. Deadlift down, switch sides, and repeat.

6. Kettlebell windmill

“My favorite oblique exercise is a spin-off of the kettlebell windmill. I love this variation because it stretches the obliques, which will open them up to create length and tone. Plus, any time you open up the abs before you work them, it gives you more for your money.” Abbey Woodfin, trainer at modelFIT

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips, then externally rotate your right foot (turn it to the side) to where your feet are now perpendicular to each other. Slightly bend the knees, and pop the left hip out.
  2. With your knees bent and your left hip popped, slowly start sliding your right hand along the right inner thigh, stopping at your knee.
  3. As your right hand reaches toward the ground, lift your left hand toward the sky, stacking your shoulders.
  4. Look your eyes up toward your left hand, and create resistance by reaching the arms in opposite directions. Then slowly stand back up.
  5. Repeat 10 times, and on the final rep, hold for a few extra seconds. Switch sides. You can add light hand weights for extra resistance.

7. Oblique twists off a bench

“Your obliques are responsible for the six-pack look, as well as many other benefits. They help snatch in the waistline and help with strength and stability. This is more of an advanced move, but it’s great to do with a partner.” Ashley Borden, celebrity personal trainer

How to do it:

  1. Start with your hips just at the edge of the bench. Extend your legs and flex your feet.
  2. Have your partner sit on your ankles and keep your weight forward, then prepare your body. Squeeze your glutes, stack your hip bones on top of each other, and cross your arms across your chest.
  3. Dip your torso down and contract your obliques to come up. Keep your chest open, feet flexed, and quads squeezing the entire time. (Here’s a visual reference, if you need it.) Start with six to 10 reps per side.

8. Cross-body mountain climber

“I love this exercise because while it’s one of my favorites to target the obliques, it also works on shoulder stability, core stability, and the co-contraction of multiple muscles.” Samantha Jade, senior instructor at SoulCycle and creator of BODY by SJ at Project by Equinox

  1. Assume a pushup position with your body forming a straight line from your head to your heels. Keep your neck neutral and in line with your body.
  2. Brace your abs as if you’re being punched in the stomach. Aim to hold them this way for the entire exercise.
  3. Contract your quads and your glutes. Push your hands as if you’re pushing the floor away (protracting the shoulder blades), and keep your lats engaged.
  4. While maintaining the above position and muscle contractions, pull your left knee as close as you can to your right elbow (diagonal), without allowing your hips to sag or rock as best as possible.
  5. Return to the starting position and repeat, this time bringing your right knee toward your left shoulder. Maintain calm rhythmic breathing with your movement throughout the duration of exercise.
  6. Continue to alternate back and forth, completing the exercise 10 times on each side (20 total) for two to three sets.

When you’re ready for more, you’ve gotta try this seven-minute yoga flow to wake up your core. Then, sweat it out to these creative core and butt moves you probably don’t know about yet.