Oblique exercises for beginners – how to improve your waist tone

The obliques form the middle layer of the abdominal muscles. They’re sometimes called the “side abs” because they’re situated either side of the “6-pack” muscles. There are two sets of obliques – the internals and externals. Between them they carry out functions of bending, twisting and core stabilising. Strong obliques will help you to have good core stability and definition in your waist area. If you don’t regularly do exercise that involves twisting and bending movements, then it’s likely your obliques are weak. If this is the case, then you should start with an oblique exercises for beginners program. The program below includes 6 beginner oblique exercises to build a foundation for obliques training.

Oblique exercises for beginners printable PDF

Benefits of training the obliques

  • As explained above, the obliques are the “side” abdominal muscles, so they add shape and tone to your waist.
  • They play a part in core stability, helping to protect the spine from injury and chronic pain.
  • Having strong obliques helps to avoid injury in everyday activities that involve bending and twisting.
  • Together with the traverse abdominis, the obliques work to pull the abdominal area in flat.

Suitable beginner oblique exercises

Like all exercises for the core, it’s important not to be over-ambitious when you first start. Because the obliques play a part in stabilising the spine, you could end up with back pain or injury if you don’t build your strength up gradually. These 6 beginner exercises will start to build strength in your obliques, as well as developing your exercise technique, ready for more advanced exercises.

About the workout

The first 3 exercises are done standing and the second 3 are on the floor. Do 2 sets of the standing exercises and then get on the floor for 2 sets of the floorwork exercises. You’ll need cushioning of some sort if you’re using a hard floor. If you don’t have an exercise mat, then use a folded blanked or something similar.

The first two exercises will be more effective if you use a weight. A kettlebell is ideal, or you can also use a dumbbell. A weight of around 5lb/3kg is good for beginners.

For best results, do the workout 3 times a week.

Please read these general exercise guidelines before you start.

Warming up set: do 10 warm up side bends and twists to each side. For these, start by only reaching/twisting halfway, then gradually increase the range through the 10 reps. After this, start the workout with your 15 full range side bends.

#1 side bends

Oblique exercises for beginners side bend

  1. Stand with feet hip distance apart, then reach your right hand down towards your right foot.
  2. Make sure you don’t lean your body forwards or backwards, try to imagine you are in a narrow gap between 2 walls.
  3. Repeat for 15 reps, then change sides.

#2 upper body rotations

Oblique exercises for beginners rotations

  1. Stand with your feet about hip distance apart and lift your arms up in front of you. Clasp your hands together, with your arms bent.
  2. Keeping your arms at shoulder height and your hips facing forwards, rotate your arms and upper body to the right.
  3. Come back to the centre and then repeat to the left.
  4. Continue alternating for 20 reps.

#3 standing elbow to knee

Opposite elbow to knee

  1. Stand with your feet hip distance apart and your hands behind your head.
  2. Lift your right knee and at the same time, rotate your left elbow towards it. Stay standing tall, this is a rotating movement, not a bending one.
  3. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
  4. Continue alternating side to side for 20 reps.

#4 side reaches

Side reaches

  1. Lie on the floor with knees bent and feet about hip distance apart, your right hand behind your head and your left your palm facing inwards towards your body.
  2. Lift your head and shoulders slightly off the floor.
  3. Reach your left hand towards your left foot.  Complete 10 reps on this side and then lower your head to the floor, change sides and repeat.

#5 oblique crunches

Oblique curls

  1. Lie with your back flat on the floor, knees bent, feet lifted and your hands behind your head, as shown.
  2. Curl your head and right shoulder off the floor in a smooth movement , directing your right elbow towards your left knee.
  3. As you return to the floor, make sure the movement is smooth and controlled.
  4. Repeat on the other side and continue alternating side to side until you’ve done 20 reps.

#6 elbow side plank

Oblique exercises for beginners side plank

  1. Lie on your side, with your legs extended in a straight line.
  2. Take your forearm to 90 degrees with your body and curl your hand into a fist to help support your weight.
  3. Engage your core muscles and lift your upper body so that your forearm is supporting you, making sure your shoulder is directly above your elbow.
  4. Hold this position for 15 seconds
  5. Then lower your upper body to the floor and repeat on the other side.

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Oblique exercises for beginners printable

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Ab workouts FAQ

The stock answer to this is that you can’t get rid of fat from a specific area. This  is repeated frequently and emphatically by almost everyone involved in fitness. Given that it’s the go-to answer, you would think that there’s a pile of evidence to support it. In fact, the evidence is surprisingly weak. On the other hand, there’s no evidence that you can exercise to burn fat from a specific area either.

What we do know for sure is that our bodies have preferred places to store fat – and the abdominal area is one of them. So you’re not likely to have a fat-free belly until you’re a healthy weight. The best way to be a healthy weight is of course to have a healthy diet and to exercise regularly. Any exercise helps with weight control.

Even if it doesn’t burn belly fat, regular ab exercise will make a difference though. The deep core muscles pull the abdominal area flat and having a strong core can make a real difference. In fact it’s often the case that what people think is fat is just poor muscle tone allowing the abdomen to protrude.

So, the best things you can do to look slimmer around your middle are to make sure you’re a healthy weight and do some core training.

Plank holds have been an enormously popular abs exercise for years now. This is probably due to the buzz surrounding the exercise in the form of challenges and extreme hold times, rather than being due to its merits as an effective exercise.

Done correctly, the plank will engage the deepest abdominal muscle, the transverse abdominis (TA). This is the one that plays the biggest part in pulling the abdominal area in flat, as well as playing an important role in pelvic and spinal stability. It’s a challenging exercise and most people will struggle to hold the correct position for more than a minute. These are the good points. However, the plank has its drawbacks:

  • Doing it with correct technique is difficult for those who are not used to core training. To be effective, the back and legs must form a straight line (like a plank). Inexperienced exercisers fail to do this.
  • It’s a static exercise (ie the muscles are held contracted). There are two problems with static exercises. One is that the muscles are only worked in one position and the other is that it causes blood pressure to increase.
  • It’s not functional – we do nothing vaguely resembling the plank in every day life. If we want to train our TA to engage when we’re active, then holding it in a static contraction isn’t the best way.

So should you do plank holds? Yes, it’s good to add them to your abs routine sometimes or to do a plank challenge for variety. But you should make sure your technique is correct and you shouldn’t waste your workout time trying to build up excessively long holds.

As with most “best exercise” questions, the answer depends on what you’re trying to achieve. The two main goals people have are flat abs and 6 pack abs. To have a flat abdominal area you need to train the deeper abdominal muscles. This is done by doing core stabilising exercises. The 6 pack muscles are the top layer of ab muscles and are trained by crunches and similar exercises – any exercise in which the upper body and lower body come closer together against a resistance.  If you want to train all your ab muscles, bicycle crunches are a good all-round exercise.