Want a better-looking mid-section? Train the obliques. In this article, I cover the best science-based oblique workout so that you can do just that, optimally.
One of the biggest mistakes people make with their core training is overlooking the obliques and failing to realize their importance towards contributing to a well-developed midsection.
Based on the orientation of the obliques and the way their fibers run, they can help visually taper and narrow your waistline. They can also add more cuts to your midsection. Given that they’re well developed and you’re at a low enough body fat percentage, of course.
It would, therefore, be in your best interest to start incorporating a well-planned oblique workout into your training plan. But to train and develop them most effectively, we need to first understand their function and anatomy.
But of course, if you’re not just looking to develop your obliques, then you’d benefit from one of our programs. These go through, step-by-step, how you can develop a well-rounded physique. If you’re interested:
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Function And Anatomy of The Obliques
The obliques run down the sides of the abdominals and are composed of two muscles:
- External obliques
- Internal obliques (located directly under the external obliques)
But these two muscles have very similar functions. For simplicity’s sake, you can just think of the internal and external obliques as one single muscle.
And its main functions include:
- Spinal flexion as you do in a sit-up.
- Lateral flexion, or in other words just a side bend.
- The rotation of your torso.
But the obliques also actually have 2 lesser-known functions that most people overlook.
- It assists in the posterior pelvic tilt and tucking the ribs down and in.
- And it also assists in drawing in your abdomen by bringing the belly button in towards the spine.
Research (posterior pelvic tilt and abdominal drawing in) shows that by implementing these two additional functions of the obliques during your oblique workout, you’re able to achieve even greater activation.
Therefore, we can then train and develop the obliques in the most effective manner by ensuring two things in an oblique workout:
- Choosing exercises that incorporate all the previously mentioned functions of the obliques,
- and also work in line with the diagonal orientation that their fibers run.
Best Oblique Exercises To Include In An Oblique Workout
1) High To Low Cable Woodchoppers
One of the best oblique ab exercises to start your oblique ab workout is the high to low cable woodchoppers. It’s a great option as it enables us to apply weighted resistance directly in line with the diagonal way the oblique fibers run.
Including at least one weighted movement into your oblique workout is something I’d recommend. This is because as I’ve mentioned in past videos, the abs and obliques are just like any other muscle. And they can and should be overloaded with weight overtime to optimally shape and develop them.
How To Perform The High To Low Cable Woodchoppers
Now, to properly perform this exercise:
- Set up a cable to above shoulder height.
- Grab the handles with an interlocked grip, and take a sideways step away from the cable.
- Draw in your abdomen to pre-activate your obliques. You can do so by exhaling and thinking about moving your belly button into your spine.
- Then, keep your arms extended and your elbows locked. At the same time, use one side of your obliques to rotate your torso down and across your body towards the opposite knee.
The key here is to focus on the rotational aspect of the movement. You should minimize the use of your arms muscles by keeping your elbow position locked, rather than bending and extending them or swinging the weight down with your arms. When done properly, you should feel a strong contraction corresponding to the side of the obliques that you’re pulling towards.
And for this exercise, you’ll want to implement a lower rep range of roughly 10-15 reps. You can then continue to add more weight as this rep range becomes easier over time.
2) Bicycle Crunch
The next exercise you should include in your oblique workout is the bicycle crunch. These oblique crunches enable you to further work the obliques, and the abdominals, with just the use of your body weight. Although research data on the obliques is lacking, this exercise does successfully incorporate the many movement patterns of the obliques.
And EMG analyses have also shown it to elicit quite high obliques activation when compared to other exercises as well. A definite must-have in any oblique workout.
How To Set Up For The Bicycle Crunch
To maximize the effectiveness of this exercise for the obliques, we need to ensure that we’re implementing all of the obliques functions as we perform it.
And we can do so by doing two things before we start our reps:
- Move into posterior pelvic tilt. Your lower back should be flattened against the ground and your ribs are tucked down.
- Draw in your abdomen by exhaling and bringing your belly button in towards your spine. At this point, you may already feel a strong contraction in your obliques.
From here, we can now transition to doing the bicycle crunch. You should still maintain that posterior pelvic tilt and keep the abdominals drawn in. Doing so is going to make a huge difference in your ability to activate the obliques during this movement.
How To Perform The Bicycle Crunch
And in terms of exercise execution, don’t do what most people do. Don’t just try to touch your elbow to your knee as this just ends up in form compensations.
Instead, remember what the obliques’ functions are. Put your focus on simply crunching to the one side while rotating your torso.
Ignore where your elbows and knees end up and instead, just go as far as you’re capable of to each side while still actually feeling the obliques working during each rep.
And for this exercise, you should definitely use a much higher rep range of over 15 reps per side for example. But the key, as always, is to focus more on the contraction. And you should end your set based on the fatigue of your obliques and abs, rather than on aiming to accomplish a certain amount of reps.
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3) Twisting Leg Raise
Next, we’re going to move onto twisting leg raises. This is one of the most crucial oblique ab exercises not to be missed in an oblique workout. Take note that the traditional leg raise with no twist has actually been shown in a few EMG analyses to already provide superior obliques activation, when compared to other common core exercises, and is, therefore, a great choice.
How To Perform The Twisting Leg Raise
To make the movement emphasize the obliques even more though, we can simply incorporate a twist into each rep as you come up. This will now incorporate lateral flexion and rotation of the torso into the movement, so you can better activate the obliques.
But again, when it comes to how to get v cut abs, it’s vital that you don’t forget to incorporate the two additional functions of the obliques. You can do so by moving into the posterior pelvic tilt and drawing in the abdomen before you start your reps.
And although this exercise is quite difficult for most people to do hanging, there’s plenty of ways to regress it.
I’d suggest first performing these as lying leg raises with a twist on the floor.
Then, progress to doing them on the Captain’s Chair, and to doing them hanging with bent knees.
You’ll eventually hang with your legs straightened out. Doing so will ensure that you’re increasing the demand placed on your obliques as they develop and strengthen over time.
And due to the difficulty of this exercise, a rep range of anywhere between 10-20 reps is ideal. But again, the focus needs to be on controlling and actively using your obliques every single rep.
The Best Science-Based Oblique Workout
As for frequency and number of sets recommendations for these movements in an oblique workout, I’d recommend throwing 3-4 sets of each of these into your current ab training. And as for your abs training, you should be doing them once to even 4 times a week, depending on how much volume you’re doing during each session.
So, for example, if I was doing 3 relatively shorter ab workouts per week, I would throw in 3 sets of one of these v cut abs exercises into each of those ab workouts.
In any case, though, try out these movements and figure out which works best for you. You can then implement them in your v cut abs workout according to the guidelines I went through. Doing so will make a significant improvement in your obliques development. You shouldn’t forget about developing your lower abs, too!
But keep in mind that picking the right core exercises to do in your oblique workout is just one part of the equation. Dialing in your nutrition and eating the right amount and types of foods are really the key to leaning down and defining that mid-section.
For a step-by-step program that shows you exactly how to train and how to set up your nutrition to transform your body with science:
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And a huge shoutout to this incredible transformation of the week by Shahril, who managed to completely transform his body, in just 9 months on the program!