The Ab Muscles Everyone Forgets & How To Work Them

Photographed by Geordy Pearson.
Quick anatomy lesson: You know the obliques, those muscles along the sides of your waist? Well, they do so much more than provide the shape of your waistline. Functionally, they control your body’s ability to bend and twist (and resist bending and twisting — like, say, when you’re carrying a lopsided load, such as a shoulder bag or a suitcase). They also support your spine, internal organs, and even your breathing. Having strong obliques, therefore, can keep your posture upright, reduce the risk of muscle strain when you're lifting and moving heavy things, and even prevent and reverse back pain.

The following exercises train the oblique muscles to do their jobs even better. Aim to do these intentionally and with good form for 30 to 60 seconds of effort (if you find it easier to count, that’ll likely be in the 10-to-15 rep range). Add one or two into your total-body circuit training, or choose three or four to do as a circuit on their own.

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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Single-Arm Chest Press
This is a great move that uses lopsided loading to challenge the obliques. Grab as heavy a dumbbell as you can handle with control for about 15 reps to be sure you make the most of it.

How-to: Lie down on a weight bench holding one dumbbell. (Tip: Place it on your hip crease when seated, then lie back and curl it in toward your chest.)
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Single-Arm Chest Press (cont.)

How-to:
With feet flat on the floor, bend the elbow of the weighted arm out toward the side, a little wider than 45 degrees from your ribs. Inhale, then exhale as you press the weight up and above your chest. Slowly lower it back to the start. Do 10 to 12 reps, then switch sides.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Single-Arm Overhead Press

The overhead dumbbell press is a great move for the shoulders with support from the core, but when you do it on one side at a time, the obliques have to work harder to maintain your balance. Use a weight that’s heavy enough that you can do up to 15 reps (but no more) with good form.

How-to: Grab a heavy dumbbell in one hand. Stand with feet hip- to shoulder-width apart, knees soft, and belly button pulled in so your shoulders are in line with hips, no arching of the back.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Single-Arm Overhead Press (cont.)

How-to: Inhale, then exhale as you press the weight straight up overhead, keeping bicep close to ear. Lower the weight down with control. Do 10 to 12 reps, then switch sides.
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Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
Ball Deadbugs

Yes, it looks silly. But whoa, does it work those obliques muscles! It’s also really safe on the lower back — a bonus if you find that some core work stresses your back out.

How-to: Grab a stability ball. Lie on your back, extending the legs and arms straight up in the air, pinning the ball between your limbs (tip: flex your toes).
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Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
Ball Deadbugs (cont.)

How-to: Keeping your head down and your back flat, slowly lower one arm overhead and the opposite leg down away from the ball, so they’re hovering 45 degrees above the floor.
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Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
Ball Deadbugs (cont.)

How-to: Slowly raise them back up to the ball and switch limbs. Repeat for time (30 to 60 seconds) or reps (8 to 12 might be enough here).
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Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
Ball Windshield Wipers

The name of the game here is to resist the twist, using the obliques to control the legs from falling to the side — and to bring them back to center.

How-to: Lie on your back with your stability ball handy. Raise your legs up toward the ceiling and pin the ball between your ankles.
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Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
Ball Windshield Wipers (cont.)

How-to: With arms out to the sides like a T, lower your legs off to one side, going only as low as you can control.
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Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
Ball Windshield Wipers (cont.)

How-to: Bring the legs back to center, then lower to the other side. Go for 30 to 60 seconds or 8 to 12 reps.
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Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
Band Chops

Resistance bands are a great way to train the core because they provide a constant, well, resistance for it to stabilize against. Traditional chops, from high to low, work the obliques and the front ab muscles.

How-to: Anchor a resistance band to a point above your head. Stand sideways to your band, grasping it in both hands above your head, stepping away enough so that the band has some tension from the start.
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Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
Band Chops (cont.)

How-to: Chop your arms straight down in front of you and across your body toward the opposite hip, pivoting on your toes so you now face away from the band anchor point. Slowly return to the start position without letting the band snap you back. Do for time or reps on one side; then, switch sides.
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Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
Band Core Press

This might be the ultimate move for testing your obliques’ ability to resist rotation, because that’s exactly what you’ll be doing here.

How-to: Attach your band so that it’s at belly-button height. Stand sideways to it and grasp it in both hands, right in front of your belly button.
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Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
Band Core Press (cont.)

How-to: Step away from the anchor, so the band has some tension to start. Fully extend your arms to straight; hold for a count of two up to 10, without letting your body give in to the desire to twist toward the band. Bring your arms back in to release for a moment; then, repeat for 10 to 15 reps of the same duration. Turn around and do the same with the other side.
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Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
Band Reverse Chops

By anchoring your band from below and chopping up, you’ll hit the obliques and the back core muscles.

How-to: Attach your band to something low. Stand sideways to it, holding it in both hands, standing far enough away that there’s some tension in it from the start.
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Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
Band Reverse Chops (cont.)

How-to:
Rotate your body and raise your arms up in front of you and to the opposite side, in a diagonal motion, pivoting your feet, so you end with your arms up above your head, facing away from the band’s anchor point. Control to return to the start position.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Band Stirs

A progression from the core press, the important thing here is to remember that only your arms do the moving — everything else stays firm and solid.

How-to: With your band anchored at belly-button height, stand sideways, holding it in both hands at tension.

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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Band Stirs (cont.)

How-to:
Extend your arms out straight and then pull them away from the anchor point, circling the band as if you were stirring a very large, very viscous cauldron in front of you.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Band Stirs (cont.)

How-to:
Continue circling, slowly, bringing the handles closer to your body.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Band Stirs (cont.)

How-to:
Keep it slow and controlled as you finish the "circle" at your middle. Do 10 to 15 reps going one direction, then switch sides.
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