For better posture, lower-back support, and to avoid back pain, it's important to strengthen and tone your obliques (side abdominal muscles). We've compiled 7 hard-core exercises to train and tone this region. Remember that quality is better than quantity. Start with five solid reps and work your way up to the reps recommended for each exercise.
The seated sidewinder, formerly known as the seated trunk rotation, is a great warm-up move. Starting your workout with some spinal rotations wakes up the abs while prepping back for twisting exercises, like the wood chop on the cable pulley machine. Plus the leg position lengthens the hamstrings; that's three major benefits in one move!
- Sit on the ground with your legs extended out in front of you, and lean ever so slightly forward.
- Keeping your elbows relaxed, lift your hands so they are even with the bottom of your rib cage.
- Pull your navel to your spine, and twist slowly to the right touching the floor by your hip. The movement is not large and comes from the ribs rotating. Inhale through center and rotate to the left. This completes one rep.
- Do three sets of 12 reps each.
If you're not twisting during workouts, you should be. Incorporating twists into an exercise routine targets core muscles like the obliques to tone love handles and create a defined waist. It's not just your muscles that are benefiting: doing twisting moves helps boost your calorie-burning potential, says Julie Erickson, founder of Endurance Pilates and Yoga. Moves that "rotate the torso, hips, and the shoulders . . . encourage greater blood flow and stimulation of particular areas within the body, affecting digestion, metabolism, and circulation," she says (get Julie's full detox yoga and Pilates workout here!).
Want to whittle your waist? Get on board by adding a few of these twisting moves to your workout.
Seated Russian TwistPhoto: Megan Wolfe Photography at J+K Fitness Studio
To do the seated Russian twist:
- Sit on the ground with your knees bent and your heels about a foot from your bum.
- Lean slightly back without rounding your spine at all. It is really important, and difficult, to keep your back straight, so don't let it curve.
- Place your arms straight out in front of you with one hand on top of the other. Your hands should be level with the bottom of your rib cage.
- Pull your navel to your spine and twist slowly to the left. The movement is not large and comes from the ribs rotating, not from your arms swinging. Inhale through your center and rotate to the right. This completes one rep. Lift your feet off the ground for a more advanced variation.
- Do 15 to 20 full rotations.
Read on for three more oblique-targeting twists.
When it comes to strengthening your middle, planks pull your entire core together. They can be your best friend or your worst enemy: it's a love-hate relationship. To switch up your basic plank incorporate a twisting motion. This variation gives you the same results while also engaging the sides of your core. Hello, obliques!
Start in a Plank
- Begin in a plank position.
- Make sure your hands are directly under your shoulders and your legs are squeezed together. Create one long line from your heels all the way to the crown of your head.
- Hold this basic plank for 10 to 20 seconds to warm up your core before twisting. Make sure your back stays lifted with open shoulder blades to prevent your chest from sinking down.
Lift Your Knees
- Hold your plank position and bend your knees, allowing them to slightly hover over the ground.
- Straighten your lower back by pulling your abs in, in preparation to start the twist.
- In one fluid motion, twist your knees to the right, initiating the movement from your obliques.
- Return to the center, then twist to the left. Do this 10 times on each side.
- For more of a challenge: end the exercise in a traditional plank with your knees extended and hold it for 10 to 20 seconds.