Your obliques are your large abdominal muscles, located to the sides and front of your abdomen. They flex and rotate your spine, and stabilize your pelvis and trunk.
In this article, you will learn about your oblique muscle anatomy, what some effective oblique exercises are, and how you can combine them into a workout.
Oblique Muscle Anatomy
Your obliques are wide but thin muscles, moving from your sides towards the front of your abdomen.
You have two oblique abdominal muscles on each side: the external and internal oblique.
- The external oblique is the outermost muscle. It originates from the lower half of your rib cage, and inserts both in the iliac crest of your hip bone and into a fibrous sheath on the front of your abdomen.
- The internal oblique is the innermost muscle. It originates from the lumbar fascia in your lower back, and also from your hip bones. The muscle fibers run forward and upwards (perpendicular to your external oblique) and insert in your lower ribs and the fibrous sheath on the front of your abdomen.
Both your external and internal obliques can flex (bend) your torso forward and to your sides, and also rotate it. Because the muscle fibers of the internal and external obliques run perpendicular to each other, your right external oblique rotates your torso left, but your right internal oblique rotates your torso right.
Your obliques also stabilize your trunk by compressing your abdominal cavity, which increases your intra-abdominal pressure. This is especially prominent during unilateral (one-sided) lifts and movements such as Bulgarian split squats and standing one-handed dumbbell shoulder presses, which both activate your obliques.1 2
Finally, your obliques contribute to forced exhalation by compressing your abdominal organs and pushing them up into your diaphragm.
In this section, we’ll take a look at four different oblique exercises, targeting the muscles’ primary functions of flexion and rotation.
1. High to Low Wood Chop
The high to low wood chop is a great oblique exercise that combines both their flexing and rotating function in one motion.
You can do this exercise with a cable or an elastic band, or, I suppose, with an actual axe and wood.
2. Lying Windshield Wipers
The lying windshield wiper is a bodyweight exercise that doesn’t require any equipment. Lie flat on your back, with your arms out to your sides for stability. Lift your legs straight up to begin the exercise, and then move them down to your sides, back and forth.
This is a heavy rotational oblique exercise, that can be made easier by bending your knees.
- Lying Windshield Wipers with Bent Knees
- Hanging Windshield Wipers
3. Oblique Crunch
The oblique crunch is another classic that you can do anywhere, without any equipment. Begin by lying flat on your back with bent knees and your hands on the sides of your head. Don’t pull at your head! Flex forward and aim your elbow at the knee on the opposite side.
Try holding a weight or dumbbell against your chest for extra resistance, or use a ball or sloped bench for extra range of motion.
4. Side Plank
Finally, the side plank will challenge your stability and strength endurance. You can make this exercise easier by performing it on your knees and increase the difficulty by placing your feet on a ball or in gymnastic rings/straps.
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However, if you’re still interested in what a specific oblique workout could look like, here’s an example.
StrengthLog’s Oblique Workout
- High to Low Wood Chop: 3 sets/side x 8 reps
- Lying Windshield Wipers: 2 sets x 16 reps
- Oblique Crunch: 2 sets/side x 20 reps
- Side Plank: 1 set/side x 1 minute
Together, these exercises will train your obliques well, stimulating both muscle growth and strength. If you train these exercises with a good technique, and regularly try to increase the weight you are using or the number of reps you are doing while still maintaining good form, your obliques are bound to grow bigger and stronger.
And that’s it! Hopefully, by now you have a good grasp of your oblique muscle anatomy, what some effective oblique exercises are, and how you can combine them into a workout.
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- European Journal of Applied Physiology. May 2012, Volume 112, Issue 5, pp 1671–1678. Muscle activity of the core during bilateral, unilateral, seated and standing resistance exercise.
- Int J Sports Med. 2014 Dec;35(14):1196-202. Muscle activation and strength in squat and Bulgarian squat on stable and unstable surface.