Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The rectus abdominis muscles get all the headlines. They’re the roughly symmetrical ones running down the front of your stomach that, with disciplined dieting and the right exercise plan, form the trademark head-turning six-pack. But the supporting cast of internal and external obliques (plus the transverse abdominis) are equally crucial for athletic performance, spine support and even the function of breathing.

RECOMMENDED: Circuits for Upper Abs, Lower Abs, and Obliques and Core

The obliques are muscles in the abdominal wall that that run down the sides of your midsection. Together the internal and external obliques enable your trunk to rotate for sport and other activities. You need them to be robust so they can help keep your body stable, support your spine and protect your internal organs from impact. Basically, they’re essential to both rapid twisting movements and keeping you still, which is reflected in the way you should train them in the gym.

The transverse abdominis muscles also run down the sides of your torso and work in tandem with the obliques. They’re especially noteworthy for their role in keeping your gut sucked in and preventing your stomach from bulging over the top of your trousers.

To improve performance in both sports and everyday activity, and to help you hold on to a flat stomach, here are the best moves to target and strengthen your oblique muscles. We’ve given them a difficulty rating so you know what you’re letting yourself in for before you get stuck in.

Side bend

Difficulty rating 1/5

Begin with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell, kettlebell or weight plate in each hand by your sides. Leaning down to one side, lower that side’s dumbbell as far as is comfortable without bending your body forwards or backwards. Keep your feet firmly on the floor with legs straight. The dumbbell held in the opposing hand will come up as you lean over. Keep your reps slow and controlled, and when you feel your obliques contracting and stretching, pause for one second.

Side plank

Difficulty rating 2/5

Lie on one side, supported by your forearm and hand. Lifting your hips off the floor, ensure your body remains in a straight, neutral line from head to toe with only one foot and forearm on the floor, stabilising your body. Keep your shoulders fixed, feel the contraction and hold the position for 30 seconds. Lower back to the start and repeat on the other side. Progress by holding the plank position for longer.

Military press

man doing miltary press

Difficulty rating 3/5

Stand upright with your feet together, holding a barbell or dumbbells at shoulder height. Squeeze your core and glutes, keeping them engaged at all times for a strong midsection that also eases the pressure on your lower back. Press the barbell or dumbbells overhead until your arms are straight. Lower under control, being careful not to drop any lower than your chin so as to prevent excessive internal rotation of the shoulders.

Woodchop

Difficulty rating 3/5

Stand upright, and hold a dumbbell in both hands above your head and to one side. Bring it down diagonally across your body, as if you were chopping at a tree. Focus on squatting as you go, hingeing at the hips and keeping your back straight. Finish with the dumbbell just outside your opposite knee. Return to the start. If doing a set of woodchops, complete all the reps on one side, then switch to the other.

Pallof press

Difficulty rating 4/5

Stand side-on to a cable machine, holding one handle in both hands close to your chest. Step out sideways about 60cm from the cable machine, and take the weight, using your core abdominals to resist rotation. Press your arms straight in front of you to increase the rotational pull on your core. Pause, then return to the start position. Repeat for ten to 15 reps.

Toes-to-bar

Difficulty rating 4/5

Hang from a pull-up bar with an overhand (pronated) grip, hands shoulder-width apart and legs straight with feet together. Tense your core and raise your legs until your feet touch the bar. Lower slowly under full control, placing the emphasis on your obliques and avoiding swinging or using momentum.

Kettlebell windmill

Difficulty rating 5/5

Stand with your feet around double shoulder-width apart, holding a kettlebell in your right hand overhead. Keeping your right arm straight, slowly lower your body to your left side – hingeing from the hips – until you feel a slight stretch in your right side. Hold the stretch for a second and then contract your obliques as you bring your body back upright. Repeat on the other side.

Windscreen wiper

Difficulty rating 5/5

A similar set-up to toes-to-bar, so you begin by hanging from a pull-up bar with an overhand grip, with your hands shoulder-width apart, legs straight and feet firmly together. Ensure your core is fully activated and raise your legs above the bar in a controlled motion. Lower your legs to one side until they’re parallel to the floor, then raise them again and lower them to the other side. Continue, alternating sides. This is an effective method to hit the obliques on both sides in little time, but it requires advanced core strength.