Anyone who is on a quest for a trim, toned midsection should think beyond the so-called six-pack abs. For an overall appearance of tightness in this area, training the obliques — the panels of muscle that run along the sides of the torso near the waist — is crucial. When strengthened, this muscle group, which enables the torso to rotate, contributes to straight posture, thus promoting a long and lean appearance. Luckily, fitness experts have worked out a vast array of oblique exercises which can tighten up these muscles over time. Oblique exercises include the modified crunch, the side bridge, and the rotation — all designed to suit several different workout styles.
Perhaps one of the most basic oblique exercises is the modified crunch. To begin, the exerciser should lie on her back with hands behind the head, elbows dropped down to the floor. She should then bend the knees and let them fall to the right side. With a slow, controlled movement, she should curl the upper body in the direction of the knees until both shoulders are raised from the floor, pause for two counts, and then return her shoulders to the floor. After performing five to ten repetitions, she should drop the knees to the left and repeat.
Since the Pilates discipline aims to train the core muscles of the body, it incorporates many oblique exercises, including the side bridge. To perform this move, the exerciser should sit on the floor on her right hip with the legs almost fully extended away from her and the left foot crossed over the right ankle. Holding her left hand on the waist and placing the right hand palm-down on the floor for support, she should raise the torso upward until the body forms a straight, plank-like line. She should hold this pose for five seconds and then return to the starting position. After eight to ten repetitions, she should switch sides and repeat.
For those who enjoy weight training, the rotation is one of the most straightforward and challenging oblique exercises. For this move, the exerciser should begin by standing with a five-pound dumbbell gripped in both hands and held just above the level of the navel. With feet planted and abdominal muscles held tight, she should rapidly twist her upper body 90 degrees to the right, 180 degrees to the left, and then return to the starting position. After performing ten repetitions, she should repeat the exercise, twisting this time to the left first.
When performing any oblique exercises, it should be noted that quality of repetitions far outweighs quantity in terms of producing satisfactory results. Poor form can lead not only to a lack of noticeable improvement in the abdominal area, but also to injury. People who undertake oblique training should take care to stretch thoroughly, to execute the moves correctly, and to breathe properly.
Finally, it should be understood that abdominal muscles, no matter how toned, will remain invisible if they are couched beneath a layer of fat. For a truly taut appearance, individuals who have taken on a routine of oblique exercises must also eliminate excess body fat. This can be achieved through a program of healthy eating and regular exercise that incorporates both cardiovascular and strength training.