When we think about core workouts, most of us fixate on the front of our abs. You know, those muscles that create that six-pack. But the abs include a handful of different muscle groups, and it’s important to train all of them—whether you’re simply trying to get stronger and protect your body from injury, or trying to get more visible muscle definition.
The entire core helps us stay balanced and perform a ton of exercises without falling over or straining our backs, but the obliques in particular have an important role. They’re the muscles that run along the sides of the waist, from the ribs to the hip bones. We use them every time we twist our torsos, or bend down to one side or the other. “The obliques help stabilize us and keep our torso protected,” Danielle Burrell, a NASM-certified personal trainer and founding trainer at Rumble Boxing, tells SELF.
Specifically, there’s less of a chance your lower back is going to become strained if you have strong obliques that can help support your body through any twisting or turning movement. “It is so important to train and build strong obliques muscles to help us perform better in exercise, sports, and everyday functional movements,” Burrell says.
Here, Burrell demonstrates 13 obliques exercises she loves. They all require either no equipment or a simple weight, like a dumbbell or medicine ball, so you don’t need to go to a gym to do them. Check out the moves below, find a few of your favorites, and add them onto your next strength training session or at the end of a cardio workout to really target your sides.
1. Side Planks
“This exercise primarily targets the obliques, but it also works the whole side of the body including the shoulders, core, and hips,” Burrell says.
- Start on your side with your feet stacked on top of each other and your bottom forearm directly below your shoulder.
- Engage your core and raise your hips until your body is in a straight line from head to toe.
- Hold this exact position without letting your hips drop for 30 seconds or more, then repeat on the other side.
2. Side Plank Dips
“Side plank dips are a more challenging way to fire up the obliques in a side plank position,” Burrell says. “This exercise primarily targets the obliques but it also works the whole side of the body (shoulders, core, hips).”
- Start in a side plank.
- Drop your hips toward the floor and raise back to starting position or a little higher if you can.
3. Sit-Ups to Twist
“This exercise targets the obliques but you will also work all of the abdominal muscles,” Burrell says.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat to the floor.
- Place your hands behind your head, engage your core and do a full sit-up. At the top of the sit-up, bring your right elbow to your left knee and twist your body toward that side.
- Lower back down to start.
- Repeat this movement alternating sides each time.
4. Russian Twists
“Russian twists work the entire core with emphasis on the obliques,” thanks to the twisting motion, Burrell says.
- Sit up with your legs out in front of you, knees bent and your heels on the floor, your back at a 45-degree angle to the floor. Hold a medicine ball or dumbbell (try 8 to 10 pounds) with both hands by your stomach.
- Keep your back straight and medicine ball in close to your torso as you twist to the right and left.
Burrell says these are great for the entire core, but the side crunch part shows your obliques some extra love. You’ll also get a bonus upper body workout, since you’re using your arms, shoulders, and back to stay in plank position. And as with any exercise that’s done in plank position, you should also be engaging (and therefore, working) your butt the entire time.
- Start in a high plank, arms extended and your hands under your shoulders, with your core engaged.
- Bring your left knee to your left elbow. Use your upper body to turn toward your knee to perform what looks like a side crunch.
- Continue the movement, alternating sides.
6. Trunk Rotations
“Trunk rotations are great for the core, and target the obliques as well as the upper body,” Burrell says.
- Start in a high plank with your core engaged. Don’t forget to squeeze your butt the entire time.
- Bring your left knee underneath your body toward your right elbow by twisting your torso slightly. Think of it as a slow side-to-side mountain climber.
- Repeat the movement alternating sides.
7. Wood Choppers
The rotating motion here targets your obliques, but is also great to fire up the quads and glutes, Burrell notes.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in both hands.
- Hold the weight by both ends with arms extended in front of your left leg, knees bent slightly.
- Rotate slightly off your left foot as you twist your body and swing the weight across your body up and to the right, keeping your arms straight the entire time.
- Bring the weight back to starting position.
- Do 8 to 15 reps on one side, and then repeat on the other side.
8. Wall Ball
“The wall ball is a great full-body exercise that not only targets the obliques but also works the lower and upper body,” Burrell says.
- Stand with your left side facing a wall and knees slightly bent. With straight arms, hold a soft medicine ball on the right side of your body. Since you’re using your back muscles, which are generally pretty strong, you may be able to go heavier—try 10 or 12 pounds.
- Rotate off your right foot and use power from your hips to throw the ball into the wall.
- Catch the ball, bending the knees to absorb the catch.
- Repeat on other side.
9. Side Bends
The key here is making the movement slow and controlled, and initiating the movement from your core.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding a medium-to-heavy dumbbell in your right hand.
- Engage your core and bend at your waist to the right toward the floor. Let the weight guide you down slowly.
- Pulling from your core, bring your body back to start position.
10. Forward Lunges With Rotation
“Not only does this exercise work the obliques, but it’s also a great burn for your shoulders, other areas of the core, and quads, hamstrings, and glutes,” Burrell says. To get the most out of this move, keep your back straight and core super tight throughout.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a medicine ball in both hands with arms extended out in front of your chest.
- Lunge forward with your left leg. As you bend your knees, rotate your torso to the left, making sure to keep your arms straight.
- Rotate back to center, and push off your front heel to return to start.
- Continue this movement alternating legs.
11. Standing Side Crunch
This move mostly targets your obliques, but it also challenges your balance a bit. Make sure to keep your pelvis tucked (that is, make sure your butt isn’t sticking out) and your back straight so you don’t feel this in your lower back.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place your right hand close to your right ear.
- Raise your right knee on the side of your body while bringing your right elbow down to meet it.
- Raise your arm back up into the air as you straighten your leg and lower your foot back down to the ground.
12. Side Kicks
“Side kicks are primarily butt-focused, but I always find it gives me a great burn in my obliques,” Burrell says. All you need is a stable wall to stand against.
- Stand far enough away from the wall so that you can bend your torso forward and press your palms against it, elbows bent.
- Place both hands on the wall. Lift your right leg off the ground, parallel to the floor.
- Bring your right knee in toward your right elbow. Then, flex your foot and kick the leg back out straight to the parallel position. Repeat this for 8 to 15 reps, then switch sides.
13. Power Hooks
“Hooks are my favorite obliques exercise,” Burrell says. “Power hooks are great way to build upper body strength along with working the core, especially those obliques!” Hit a heavy bag, use dumbbells, or just shadowbox without weights.
- Stand in a fighting stance with your power (dominant) leg behind you.
- With your guard up (hands in front of your face), take your front elbow and raise it to chest level. Draw your hand out so that your arm is at a 90-degree angle. Engage your waist and hips to throw a front hook across the body.
- Repeat with your back arm, and this time, rotate off the ball of your back foot.
- Continue alternating arms as quickly as you can while still maintaining form.