When you think about having a strong core, your first thought might be well-defined abs and a flat stomach, including a chiseled 6-pack. However, the core isn’t just your abs. The core makes up nearly half of the body and includes all the muscles that attach to the pelvis and spine! These muscles are crucial not only for daily tasks but also in continuing to have function and mobility as we age. The core muscles allow us to run, jump, twist, bend or brace ourselves, and all the core muscles must work together for these functions to happen. For this reason, it’s critical to have a training program that strengthens and builds all these core muscles, including the obliques.
The obliques, which run along the sides of your core, are important for rotational movements. The obliques work together to help you bend side-to-side, rotate your torso from left to right, and assist with flexing your spine. Having strong obliques also helps to protect your spine. Strengthening your obliques by training them at least several times a week is excellent for your overall health and continued ease of mobility as you age.
There are many oblique exercises, but sometimes too many options are the enemy of simplicity. I love promoting exercises that, while challenging, are simple to do and require little or no equipment. Exercises that are simple and easy to access will always be ones that you’re more apt to perform routinely, and of course, you’re going to see and feel results through consistency.
Side bends can improve your spinal mobility and help increase the strength and flexibility of the low back and the abdominals. Side bends can be performed without additional weight to start or as a warm-up exercise. Once you’re ready to begin strengthening and building those oblique muscles further, you can add a set of dumbbells to increase the weight and resistance.
Equipment: Optional set of dumbbells
How to do a side bend stretch:
How to do a dumbbell side bend:
The Russian twist is a great way to build your core, and as a bonus, the added weight can help to build your shoulders. This is great for those tank-top arms! Many athletes agree that the Russian twist exercise is an excellent way to help with rotational movement. While the Russian twist may seem like a simple movement, it requires a lot of strength and support. Remember that simply because an exercise may be “simple” doesn’t mean it isn’t hard or challenging. You want a challenge to see change.
Equipment: none necessary or a set of dumbbells
How to do a Russian twist:
Dumbbell Variation: hold a 5 – 10-pound (or more) dumbbell while performing the above steps.
Heel touches, also known as heel taps, are an amazing isolation exercise that targets the obliques and abs. Heel touches activate most of the primary muscles throughout your midsection, which makes them both a superb oblique exercise along with strengthening your entire core. An added benefit is that heel taps require zero extra equipment!
How to do heel taps:
Without regular strength training, core muscle fibers shrink and become less flexible. Having firm obliques not only looks good but also supports the back and overall posture. The stronger your obliques and the stronger all your core muscles are, the more likely you are to prevent not only pain but also unnecessary injury. A weak core contributes to poor balance and limited mobility, and both things are major contributors to the risk of being injured from falls. A strong core is a must for a lifetime of a healthy, pain-free, injury-free life!