Jessica Bento, Physical Therapist (Creator DVRT Restoration Certification, DVRT Rx Shoulder, Knees, Pelvic Control, & Gait Courses)
I still see it in about every fitness commercial, stock photo like below, or ad…the oblique twists with a ball or weight. I am not going to lie to you either, I did them back in the day thinking I was working my way to six pack abs. You know what I am talking about, its a rather popular exercise today despite what we know about the body. But are they all that great? Should you even be doing them even though they are everywhere? Well, lets discuss.
There is a strong thought process that the obliques are designed to rotate the trunk. While they have that capacity, it really isn’t their main function. In fact, it is easy to argue that their main design is to prevent unwanted movement and are key stabilizers to our core.
For many people they deliberately try to rotate through their lumbar spine and the lumbar spine has minimal rotation available to it (some estimate the MAX being around 14 degrees which isn’t a lot).
Then there is shortening of the hip flexors in a position where they often want to be dominant in a movement. The hip flexors in this position can also increase the stress on the lumbar spine in a negative way. One of the primary reasons that sit-ups have been discouraged more over the years is that shortening the hip flexors and making them more dominant increases the negative forces upon the lumbar spine.
How are the obliques about RESISTING movement than producing it? As renown physical therapist, Shirley Sahrmann explains “During most daily activities, the primary role of the abdominal muscles is to provide isometric support and limit the degree of rotation of the trunk… A large percentage of low back problems occur because the abdominal muscles are not maintaining tight control over the rotation between the pelvis and the spine at the L5- S1 level.”
Better ways to training the obliques comes in the form of the exercises I show below. The kettlebell rear foot elevated alternating row is all about teaching the obliques about how to resist movement as we create it. Being in an unstable environment and having to resist the movement of the kettlebells lights up the obliques and the WHOLE core at once!
Our Ultimate Sandbag Leg Threading is a great way to teach rotation through the hips (which do have a lot of mobility) while keeping our core stable. Connecting the upper body and lower body through the core as we move through different planes of motion is what allows this to be such an effective drill.
Finally, our Around The World drill is often misunderstood. The trunk is not really rotating, it is following the movement of the feet and hips. Even the arms are not lifting the weight, but rather directing it as the body efficiently creates rotation through the feet and hips.
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Once we see that the obliques have a close tie in with the lats and glutes as far as how our body functions, people are going to realize that the old time bicycle crunches and horrible oblique twists aren’t the way we build strength in oblique exercises. Instead, we are going to find teaching the obliques to connect with muscles like lats and glutes are essential.
Below I demonstrate how you can really make those connections and make the training the obliques more effective and smarter!
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Good oblique exercises realize that the connection the obliques make a similar to that of other big diagonal muscles.
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