When you think of stretching, your abs might not be the first muscles that come to mind. However, tight abs can increase risk of injury. The muscles that run along the sides of your waist, the obliques, allow you to bend sideways and rotate your trunk.
When these muscles are tight, it can inhibit your performance in sports requiring overhead hitting as well as cause a misalignment of the spine to the right or left. By including oblique stretches in your regular workouts you can help prevent injury, maintain correct spinal alignment and improve your posture.
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Do It, But Don't Overdo
If you overstretch, you can do more harm than good for your obliques. You should expect some discomfort, pulling or slight burning with your oblique stretches, but sharp pain can indicate muscle damage. In effect, overstretching becomes counterproductive. Perform oblique stretches on both sides — right and left — equally to maintain muscular balance and proper spinal alignment.
1. Stand and Bend
A standing side bend will not only stretch your obliques, but also condition your front abdominal muscles and the muscles that run along your spinal column. Begin by standing with your legs shoulder-width apart and feet parallel.
Intertwine your fingers and extend your arms overhead, turning your palms up toward the ceiling. Inhale and contract your abs and glutes. Exhale and bend to your right, keeping your hips still throughout the exercise. Hold the peak position for 20 to 30 seconds, then return to starting position. Repeat the stretch for the best sides.
2. Sit and Lean
A seated lateral stretch can elongate your obliques as well as work your lower trunk flexors. For example, sit erect in a chair with your feet hip-width apart and flat on the floor. Slowly lift your upper back and then bend at the waist. Lower your head and trunk toward your right knee, feeling your left obliques stretch.
Continue to lower your head to below your right knee. Hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds, then return to starting position. Repeat the exercise, lowering your head to your left knee.
3. Lie Down and Twist
Any time you twist your trunk to the right or left, you'll stretch and strengthen your obliques. For example, try supine oblique stretches with a twist. Begin by lying on the floor face-up with your head cradled in your hands or your arms extended to your sides at shoulder level. Bend your knees at a 90-degree angle, keeping your legs together.
Slowly draw your hips and both knees to your right side while keeping your feet stacked. Your left foot should be on top of your right foot. Keep your upper body and shoulders pinned to the floor throughout the stretch. Hold the peak position for anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds and then return to starting position. Repeat the exercise for the opposite side.