Understanding how the obliques work is critical to understanding how best to train them. Here we have a picture of the oblique muscles. If clicked on, the picture will expand. We can see the line of the fibres, and this is how the muscle contracts. Perhaps the clearest part of the picture is on the left hand side. Looking at the fibres of both the internal and external obliques, we can see that the muscle will tighten and twist us from down to up – or up to down, as opposed to purely rotating us about an axis. And so the obliques move us in a partial spiral, they also side bend us, and stabilise our spine. Of course they help twist us too.
There are many exercises that train the obliques and I suppose an important starting question is, ‘ What are we trying to achieve?’. If it is a slimmer waist, then cutting out the starchy and sugary carbs will get a far superior result! If it is mobility, as a warm up or to help loosen up the back, then light twisting exercises standing or lying on the back are good. If it is strengthening, then are we strengthening stability or movement? Very frequently, the obliques act as spinal stabilisers as we transfer power from our legs to our arms. For such stability, nothing beats anti-rotational exercises: here is an example from Youtube:
For strengthening, then moving the body in an arc or performing side flexion exercises, such as the Swiss ball side flexion work well. The problem with trying to strengthen the abs with pure twisting motions, such as putting a barbell across the back of the shoulders and twisting, is the huge amount of stress this places on the lumbar discs.
However or for whatever reason we want to train our obliques, of utmost importance is to have an active inner unit to avoid damaging the back. So the abs draw inwards as we work, and the breath is free and not gripped. The prime reason for the abs not working is gluten intolerance. Therefore kick the cakes, say goodbye to the love handles and back ache, and start rocking.