When it comes to tightening up that midsection, many of us focus on the six-pack zone. We want Halle Berry's abs and we want 'em now.
But the obliques are your waist's unsung hero. Both the external and internal obliques are in charge of rotating your torso and flexing your spine laterally. In other words, they're the reason you can throw a ball, swing at a piñata, or simply turn around. The obliques are also important for stabilizing your trunk and maintaining your posture as you move about your everyday life. So, yeah, you don't want to forget about them.
If you're not sure how to target your obliques, start here. We've got 15 of the best oblique exercises you can do at home with minimal equipment. Pick five exercises to form a circuit you can do every other day. Then when they start to get easy, increase the reps and/or switch up the exercises for a new challenge.
Equipment: yoga mat, dumbbell, and your strong self
Sets and reps: for each exercise, aim to get 10-20 reps for 2-3 sets
How to do it: Lay on your back. Slightly lift your right leg straight out in front of you and bring your left leg in toward your chest. Place your hands behind your head, then bring your right elbow to your left knee. Switch and bring your left elbow to meet your right knee. Each rotation counts as one rep. Repeat until you finish your set.
Pro tips: While this is called the bicycle crunch, don’t move your feet in a circle as if you are riding a bike. Think about marching as you twist your torso toward the lifted thigh. If you want to make this move more challenging, lower your legs until they are parallel to the floor. The higher your legs are the easier this exercise becomes. If this exercise is still too tough with the legs higher up, you can bring your hands to the floor and use them to anchor yourself. Just work on cycling the legs from here.
How to do it: Start lying down, facing the ceiling with your knees up in the air at 90 degrees. You can have your arms out wide to anchor you or have them by your sides. Rotate your knees to the right as if you’re going to touch them to the floor. Lower them until you feel yourself struggle a bit. Return to neutral and repeat on the other side.
Pro tips: To make this exercise easier, keep your heels on the floor—toes up in the air—and rotate from there. To make it more challenging, straighten out the legs as much as you can.
How to do it: Lay down on your back and stretch your arms out above your head. Keep the legs straight. Inhale and as you exhale, sit up and reach your right arm and lift your left leg so that they touch. Lower yourself back down and repeat on the opposite arm and leg. Keep switching until you have finished your set.
Pro tips: Aim to lift your chest off the floor as much as possible when you crunch up. If your hamstrings are tight, it’s OK to bend the knees a little.
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How to do it: Start in a straight-arm plank position. Bring your right knee to meet your right elbow. Hold for a second, then return to a regular plank. Switch sides and repeat for your chosen rep count.
Pro tips: For any exercise in a plank position, it’s important to make sure that everything is in alignment before you begin. When you set up your plank, your wrists should be directly beneath your shoulders. Your back should be flat while your neck aligns with your spine (i.e. don’t over-arch that neck!). Hips should also remain level with your spine. Squeeze your butt and your core, and don’t forget to breathe. It’s OK if your knees cannot touch your elbows; just go as far as you can.
Standing Knee-to-Elbow Crunches
How to do it: From a standing position, bend your right arm and twist as you lift your left knee to meet it. Switch and twist to bring your left elbow to touch your right knee. Repeat as desired.
Pro tips: This is a great modification for those who are struggling with bicycle crunches or for those who cannot lay on their back. If you ramp up the speed a little bit, this can also make a great addition to a bodyweight cardio workout.
How to do it: Sit up tall on your mat with your knees up. Lift your heels off the floor and begin the exercise by rotating your torso to the right. Touch both of your hands to the floor. That’s one rep. Twist your torso to the left and touch the floor on the other side. That's another rep. Continue to do this until you’ve finished your set.
Pro tips: For an added challenge, feel free to grab a dumbbell or a medicine ball and hold it in your hands as you rotate to each side. If keeping your feet in the air is too hard, root them into the ground.
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How to do it: Lay on your back with your knees up and your feet on the floor. Place your arms straight in front of you, then lift your shoulders off the floor. Bend your torso laterally to the right as you touch your right heel. Bend over to the left and touch your left heel. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Pro tips: Squeeze your core and drop your navel inward as if you are trying to get it to touch the ground. Maintain this engagement throughout the exercise.
Cross-Body Mountain Climbers
How to do it: Begin in a straight-arm plank position. Bring your right knee as far forward as you can with the goal to touch your left elbow. Hold for one second, then return to the regular plank. Do the same thing on the other side. Continue until your set is done.
Pro tips: Like the plank knee-to-elbow, it’s vital that you are able to maintain the proper plank position before you start the movement. Keep the wrists directly below the shoulders, your back flat, and your hips and neck aligned with your spine.
How to do it: Lay on your right side, resting on your forearm with your elbow directly beneath your shoulder. Stack your legs on top of one another. Then lift your hips up and keep the chest open (don’t roll that left shoulder forward). You can straighten out that left arm above you or keep that left hand on your hip. Hold for your chosen amount of time, then switch to the other side.
Pro tips: To modify this move, you can take the top leg and place it on the ground in front of or behind you. This will give you added support. You can even bend your knees to about 90 degrees before you lift your hips off of the floor. This way you are balancing less of your bodyweight.
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How to do it: Begin in a straight-arm plank position. Shift your weight to your right arm, then lift your left arm up into the air as you rotate and open up your chest. Let your heels rotate toward the floor as your toes turn toward the direction you are facing. Hold for a second then return to the plank position. Do the same on the other side.
Pro tips: Make sure your starting plank is on point before you rotate. To modify this, you can drop one of your knees to the ground as you rotate. For example, if you are rotating to the left with your right arm rooted to the ground, place your right knee on the floor.
How to do it: Start in a tabletop position with your wrists directly beneath your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Brace your core by drawing your navel in toward your stomach. Inhale and as you exhale, extend your right arm in front of you as you simultaneously reach your left leg behind you. Hold for a second. Inhale and return your arm and leg back to the tabletop position. Switch and perform this on the opposite sides.
Pro tips: This move takes some focus and coordination. Don’t speed through it. Also be careful not to over-arch your neck or lower back. If this is too easy for you, try lifting your knees an inch off the floor and perform the movement while keeping them in the air.
How to do it: Get into a tabletop position and lift those knees an inch or two off the floor. Shift your weight onto your right arm then crunch your right knee into the chest as you rotate your body to the left. Lift up your left arm and bring your left elbow to touch your right knee. Return to your neutral position and repeat on the other side.
Pro tips: Rotating and bringing that knee through to the other side can be tricky in the beginning. So first, just work on rotating and dropping your hip to the ground. For example, if you are rotating to the left, drop your right hip to the ground. Return to the tabletop then switch.
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How to do it: Grab a dumbbell and begin in a standing position, feet slightly wider than hip distance apart. Sit into a quarter squat and bring the dumbbell to the outside of your right thigh. Lift and twist as you stand to bring that dumbbell above your head on the left. You can string together continuous reps by moving in this direction or alternating the direction for each rep. Just make sure you’re performing the same amount on each side.
Pro tips: This is another great one to include in a cardio or HIIT workout. To make it easier or harder, change the weight of the dumbbell.
How to do it: Begin in a standing position. Hop as you twist your shoulders and torso to the right as your bring your right leg forward, left leg backward. Switch and keep switching. Continue until you work up a good sweat.
Pro tips: Use this for warm-ups and any cardio-focused workout.
How to do it: Lay on your right side with your arm on the ground. Hold your head with your left arm. Lift your left leg as you crunch your left elbow toward the leg. Hold for a second. Lower yourself down then repeat until you finish a set.
Pro tip: Be careful of pulling on your neck too much while you crunch. Instead, focus on lifting and bending through the core. If you want to make this more challenging, work on lifting both of your legs off the floor.
Adele Jackson-Gibson is a certified fitness coach, model, and writer. She earned her master's in Journalism from NYU, her bachelor's in Literature from Yale University, and has since written for various sports, fitness, beauty, and culture outlets.
I am an expert in fitness and wellness. I have a deep understanding of various exercise techniques, including those targeting specific muscle groups like the obliques. My knowledge is backed by extensive research and practical experience in the field of fitness and exercise science. I stay updated with the latest trends and developments in the fitness industry, ensuring that I can provide accurate and relevant information to help individuals achieve their fitness goals.
Understanding Obliques and Effective Exercises
The obliques are a crucial muscle group responsible for rotating the torso and flexing the spine laterally. They play a significant role in various movements such as throwing a ball, swinging at a piñata, or simply turning around. Additionally, the obliques contribute to stabilizing the trunk and maintaining posture during everyday activities. Therefore, it's essential to incorporate exercises that target the obliques into your fitness routine for overall core strength and stability.
Bicycle Crunches: This exercise involves lying on your back, lifting your legs, and bringing your elbows to your knees in a twisting motion. It's important to maintain proper form and avoid circular leg movements. To increase the challenge, lower your legs closer to the floor [].
Windshield Wipers: This exercise starts with lying down and rotating your knees from side to side while keeping them at a 90-degree angle. To make it easier, keep your heels on the floor, and to intensify the exercise, straighten out your legs [].
Alternating V-Ups: While lying on your back, you lift your chest and reach for the opposite arm and leg. It's important to focus on lifting the chest as much as possible during the movement [].
Plank Knee-to-Elbow: This exercise begins in a straight-arm plank position, and you bring your knees to meet your elbows alternately. Proper alignment and core engagement are crucial for this exercise [].
Standing Knee-to-Elbow Crunches: From a standing position, you twist and lift your knee to meet the opposite elbow. This exercise serves as a modification for those who struggle with bicycle crunches or cannot lie on their back [].
Russian Twists: Sitting on a mat with knees up, you rotate your torso from side to side, touching the floor with both hands. Adding a dumbbell or medicine ball can increase the challenge [].
Heel Taps: While lying on your back, you lift your shoulders off the floor and bend laterally to touch your heels. Maintaining core engagement throughout the exercise is crucial [].
Cross-Body Mountain Climbers: Starting in a plank position, you bring your knees forward to touch the opposite elbow. Proper plank form and alignment are essential for this exercise [].
Side Plank: This exercise involves lifting the hips while resting on the forearm and maintaining proper alignment. Modifications can be made by adjusting leg positioning for added support [].
T-Rotations: Beginning in a plank position, you rotate and open up your chest while shifting your weight to one arm. Modifications can be made by dropping a knee to the ground during rotation [].
Bird Dogs: Starting in a tabletop position, you extend one arm and the opposite leg while maintaining core stability. It's important to focus on coordination and avoid over-arching the neck or lower back [].
Bear Crunches: In a tabletop position, you shift your weight and crunch your knee into the chest while rotating the body. This exercise requires focus on rotation and maintaining stability [].
Cross Chops: Using a dumbbell, this exercise involves standing and twisting while bringing the dumbbell above your head. The weight of the dumbbell can be adjusted for varying difficulty levels [].
Twist Jacks: This exercise starts in a standing position and involves hopping while twisting the shoulders and torso. It's a great addition to warm-up and cardio-focused workouts [].
Side Jackknives: While lying on your side, you lift your leg and crunch your elbow toward the leg. Focus on core engagement and avoid excessive neck pulling for this exercise [].
These exercises, when performed with proper form and technique, can effectively target the obliques and contribute to overall core strength and stability. Incorporating a variety of oblique exercises into your fitness routine can provide a well-rounded approach to strengthening and toning the midsection.