The 5 Worst Oblique Exercises if You Want a Smaller Waist

Exercises that solely focus on your obliques may end up giving you a rectangular shape rather than an hourglass figure.
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An hourglass figure — a silhouette where your waist is smaller than your hips and bust — is a body shape that's been made popular by many celebrities. And though exercise can trim your waist to help you get this shape (if that's your goal), some ab exercises can actually do the opposite.

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Let's first set the record straight: Your body type largely determines your natural shape and genetics. Some body types are naturally curvy and have an hourglass shape; while others are straighter or more round.

"There are lots of factors involved in body shape, such as genetics, nutrition and hormones, but target-training exercises can help tone and firm the muscles in the midsection and glutes to create more of an hourglass shape," says Laura Wilson, certified Pilates instructor and founder of Natural Pilates,.

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But make sure your goals are centered around being healthy and happy with your own body — instead of comparing yourself to unrealistic standards. Having said that, knowing the right exercises can certainly help you achieve the look you want. Find out which ab exercises to avoid and what to do instead to help sculpt your midsection for an hourglass shape.

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Tip

If you gain weight in your stomach and you want the hourglass shape, it's important to incorporate cardio exercise (at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week) as this can help reduce waist circumference, per Harvard Health. And a healthy, well-balanced diet is important as well.

5 Best and Worst Exercises for an Hourglass Shape

Ready to get started? Find out which oblique and core exercises to avoid and those that Wilson recommends to get a cinched and sculpted waist.

"These exercises (below) are great, because when done together, they work all the muscles that contribute to an hourglass shape: the center core, obliques, shoulders and glutes," Wilson says.

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1. Weighted Side Bend

The weighted side bend, in which you hold a heavy dumbbell with one hand and bend to the side, can build up the side oblique muscles too much and can create a boxy waist shape, making your midsection look thicker (the opposite of an hourglass figure).

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Wilson recommends the oblique V-up, as this exercise uses your body weight to tone your abdominals, including your obliques.

Body-weight exercises will sculpt and tighten your waist without adding bulk to your midsection. In addition, the leg lift strengthens your gluteus medius and other hip abductors, contributing to the hourglass look.

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Sets 2
Reps 15
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Core
  1. Lie on one side with your legs straight out, and your upper body propped up by your forearm.
  2. Lift both legs together, crunching your your top arm to touch your feet at the top. Think about making a "V" shape with your body.
  3. Return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat 15 times each side and perform 2 sets.

2. Russian Twist

The Russian twist exercise requires you to hold a weighted medicine ball as you twist side-to-side, touching the ball to the ground. As with the weighted side bend, holding a weighted ball can build up muscle mass in your oblique muscles and give your more of a rectangular shape.

In addition, it can aggravate or cause back pain in those who have had previous injuries or a weak core. "Ab exercises that are done incorrectly are not beneficial for the core and can be potentially harmful for the spine," Wilson says.

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The prone back extension rotation tones and tightens your core muscles, including your obliques, by using your body weight and gravity for resistance.

In addition, it works your shoulders and glutes for a lifted backside and strong back. This is a great full-body move to help you sculpt an hourglass figure.

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Sets 2
Reps 15
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Full Body
  1. Lie on your stomach with your legs straight behind you and the back of your hands against your forehead.
  2. Squeeze your glutes and lift your chest off the ground.
  3. Move your left arm to your left side. Keep your feet on the ground as you do this.
  4. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
  5. Repeat for 2 sets of 15 on each side.

3. Weighted Crunch

The weighted crunch exercise requires you to perform a crunch while holding onto a heavy weight plate for resistance. It mainly targets the rectus abdominis muscle in the front of your stomach.

This muscle is often called the "six-pack muscle," because it's the most superficial muscle that, when built up enough and body fat is low enough, can be seen as ripples. The problem with doing this exercise with the plate is that it can build up too much bulk and make you appear wider from the side.

Even when doing crunches without a weight, it's important you think about drawing your abdominal muscles in toward your bellybutton, not out. "If you do crunches with the belly distended, you will train the abdominal muscles to stick out instead of cinch in," Wilson says.

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A better way to tone and tighten your rectus abdominis and obliques without adding bulk is with the crunch with leg lift.

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 2
Reps 15
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Core
  1. Lie on your back with your hands behind your head and legs straight in front.
  2. Tighten your core, imagining drawing your midsection in toward your bellybutton, and lift your chest off the ground.
  3. Lift your legs straight up and perpendicular to the ground, then lower down to about a 45-degree angle.
  4. Hold for a about a second before moving them back straight up.
  5. Keep the motion slow and controlled. If it's too difficult, start with a smaller range of motion until your strength improves. Keep your core tight and pulled in throughout this motion.
  6. Repeat for 2 sets of 15.

4. Wood Chop

The wood chop exercise is considered a plyometric move that works your obliques and core, as well as your lower body. This isn't a bad exercise — unless your goal is an hourglass figure.

This move requires you to hold a medicine ball or weight while making a diagonal or chopping motion. This added resistance can add too much bulk to your midsection.

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A better option if your goal is a cinched waist is the cross-body mountain climber. This exercise will still get your heart rate up, while also tightening your core. In addition, it builds strong shoulders and legs.

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Sets 2
Reps 15
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Full Body
  1. Start in a high plank position, with your body in a straight line and your hands below your shoulders.
  2. Move your right knee toward your left elbow.
  3. Return to the starting position.
  4. Now move your left knee toward your right elbow.
  5. Return to starting position.
  6. Repeat for 2 sets of 15.

5. Weighted Leg Raises

The weighted leg raise requires you to hold a weight between your feet as you flex your knees to pull your legs in. This move does work your obliques and rectus abdominis, but it can also add bulky weight to your midsection. In addition, it can put undue stress on the lower back.

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A better option to sculpt your waist while working your hips is with the side plank with hip lift. This move will tone and tighten your abdominal muscles, while also helping to strengthen the muscles in your glutes and thighs.

JW Player placeholder image
Reps 15
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Core
  1. Lie on your side with your upper-body weight resting on your forearm.
  2. Bend your bottom leg back and keep your top leg straight.
  3. Place your top hand on your hip or waist. This is the starting position.
  4. Push your bottom leg into the ground and lift into a side plank. Move your top leg straight out.
  5. Do a small pulse up with your top leg.
  6. Return to the starting position.
  7. Repeat 15 times on each side.

Tip

Wilson says some of her favorite stomach-tightening cardio includes high knees, spinning, mountain climbers and elbows to knees. Many of these moves are also in high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which can be effective in burning off belly fat, according to a January 2017 study in the Journal of Diabetes Research.

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