The 7 Best Oblique Exercises That Aren't Side Planks

Target the internal and external obliques to reduce the risk of core muscle imbalances.
Image Credit: The Good Brigade/Photodisc/GettyImages

Each of the muscles that make up your core is an important piece of a bigger puzzle.

And while it's great to work them all in one fell swoop with exercises like planks, it's also a good idea to hone in on certain areas every once in a while.

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For example, your obliques — the sides of the abdomen — could probably use a little more love. Like the concrete walls of a building, you want your obliques, which comprise two layers (internal and external), to be rock-solid displays of core strength.

That's because they play a crucial role in both flexing and twisting the torso, says Ava Fagin, CSCS, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, coach and class instructor at Bodyspace Fitness. Any time you bend your torso to the side or twist your trunk, your obliques are to thank.

"Having strong obliques allows us to obtain better posture and prevent injury throughout exercises and daily life," Fagin says.

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And although the side plank is one of the best oblique exercises, it is far from being the ultimate side-sculpter. Plus, let's be honest: You can only do so many side planks.

As with any other muscle group, it's a good idea to train the internal and external obliques with different exercises that get you working them in new ways and multiple directions. After all, our bodies move in various planes of motion all day, every day, Fagin says, so it's important to train them that way.

Here are seven of the best oblique exercises that aren't side planks.

Move 1: Suitcase Carry

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Type Strength
Region Core
  1. Stand tall, holding a heavy dumbbell or kettlebell in your left hand by your side. Make sure to hold the weight few inches out from your thigh so that it isn’t touching your body. You can extend your right arm out to the side as a counterbalance.
  2. Keeping your spine straight and chest proud, walk as tall as possible and resist the pull of the weight.
  3. Switch sides and repeat for the same number of steps.

Tip

“The suitcase carry is truly one of the best core exercises out there,” Fagin says. As you walk and hold the weight away from your torso, the obliques stabilize your trunk and keep you from leaning or bending toward the weighted side, she says.

Focus on keeping your torso completely vertical. Imagine a string is pulling the crown of your head toward the ceiling.

Move 2: Pallof Press

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Type Strength
Region Core
  1. Loop a resistance band around an anchor. (If you don't have a middle-height attachment, you can get on the floor in a kneeling position with the band under your right knee.)
  2. Stand with your right side facing the anchor, far away enough so that you’re pulling significantly on the band. Situate your feet shoulder-width apart and bend your knees slightly.
  3. Hold the band with both hands at your chest or abdomen (depending on the height of the band).
  4. Extend your arms out in front of you until your elbows are straight.
  5. Bring your hands and the band back into your chest or abdomen. Throughout the movement, use your core muscles to keep your torso from rotating.
  6. If it feels too easy, walk farther away from the anchor to increase the resistance.
  7. Complete all reps, and repeat with the other side facing the anchor.

Tip

Squeeze your glutes as tight as possible. "Even your glutes — which, fun fact, are connected to your core — should work during this exercise to help resist rotation toward the band or cable machine," she says.

Move 3: Oblique V-Up

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Type Strength
Region Core
  1. Lie on your back and place your left arm out to the side so that it's perpendicular to your body.
  2. Press your left arm into the floor and roll toward the left side, just enough so that you’re balancing on your left hip.
  3. Extend your right arm overhead.
  4. Squeeze through your right-side obliques to lift your legs, right arm and chest toward each other.
  5. Lower back down to the ground with control.
  6. Do all reps, then repeat on the other side.

Tip

V-ups traditionally work the rectus abdominis, but by folding and flexing to the side, you tap into the obliques, Fagin says. If you feel this exercise primarily in the front of your core, reset and start again. Focus on bringing the side of your top hip to meet the side of your ribs.

Move 4: Horizontal Wood Chop

JW Player placeholder image
Type Strength
Region Core
  1. Loop a resistance band around an anchor. (If you don't have a middle-height attachment, you can get on the floor in a kneeling position with the band under your right knee.)
  2. Stand with your right side facing the anchor, far away enough so that you’re pulling significantly on the band. Situate your feet shoulder-width apart and bend your knees slightly.
  3. Hold the band with both hands at your chest or abdomen (depending on the height of the band) and extend your arms straight out in front of you.
  4. Twist your torso to the left, pivoting onto the ball of your right foot and keeping your arms in the same position so that they simply rotate with your midsection.
  5. Slowly return to the starting position.
  6. Do all reps, then repeat on the other side.

Tip

While the Pallof press is all about resisting rotation, the horizontal wood chop is about rotating your trunk. To rotate your torso through the greatest range of motion, pivot onto the ball of your foot with each rep.

Move 5: Slider Side-to-Side Fall Out

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Type Strength
Region Core
  1. Start on your knees with your arms extended in front of you and a slider or towel underneath each hand. Engage your core and glutes as if you’re in a plank.
  2. Slide your arms out at an angle to the left, keeping your core completely engaged so that the movement is slow and very controlled.
  3. Lower until your torso reaches the floor. Pause for a moment with your arms fully extended.
  4. Slide your arms underneath your armpits, and push up back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat on the opposite side, alternating sides with each rep.

Tip

If you don't have sliders, grab two paper plates, hand towels or even socks on your hands will do. By forcing the sliders or wheel to go in one direction as you lower your upper body and hover above the ground before releasing, you’re forcing one side of your obliques to fire up even more to stabilize your core, Fagin says.

Move 6: Windmill

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Type Strength
Region Core
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell or kettlebell overhead in your right hand with your palm facing to the left. Let your left arm relax by your side.
  2. Pivot both feet to the left and rotate your torso to the right. Keeping the weight overhead and your right leg straight, hinge your hips to the right and bend your left knee. Be sure to set your gaze on the weight the entire time.
  3. Slowly slide your torso and left arm down toward your left foot. Keep your right arm straight and the weight in place as you move. As your torso moves toward the floor, let your right shoulder naturally rotate so that your palm is now facing the front of the room.
  4. Use your core muscles to slide back up to the starting position.
  5. Do all reps, then repeat on the other side.

Tip

"Because one of the primary functions of the internal and external obliques is to laterally flex the torso, the windmill will challenge the obliques during both the eccentric [downward] and concentric [upward] portion of the exercise," Fagin says.

Make sure to move slowly and with control during both phases of the exercise for maximal results.

Move 7: TRX Oblique Fall Out

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Type Strength
Region Core
  1. Stand with your left side facing the anchor, far enough away so that there is a little slack in the straps. The closer you are to the anchor, the more your torso will bend, and the harder it will be to come back up.
  2. Hold the TRX handles above your head.
  3. Keeping the handles above your head, let your hips slowly fall to the right. Your upper body should bend toward the anchor as your midsection falls away.
  4. Squeeze your obliques to pull your midsection back to the starting position.
  5. Do all reps, then repeat on the other side.

Tip

Fagin calls this a personal favorite. “As you fall out to the side, your obliques will work by laterally flexing the trunk, though they'll work even harder to come back to a neutral standing position on the way back up,” she explains.

If you have a TRX or other suspension training system, give this obliques burner a try.

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