Pilates Exercises for Your Obliques

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

If you've heard oblique workouts are the way to get a better waistline, you might be wondering how to do one, as in exactly what kinds of exercises work the obliques. We're going to go into that, along with tips on how to make your oblique workouts both safe and effective.

What are Obliques?

Before we launch into how to get an oblique workout, however, let's talk about where the oblique muscles are and what they do. That will shed more light on why you want an oblique workout, and how to get one.

The term obliques refers to two sets of abdominal muscles, the internal obliques and the external obliques. Relative to the other abdominal muscles, the obliques are deeper than the rectus abdominis and more surface than the transversus abdominis. The external run a diagonal along your sides from the lower ribs to the tops of the hip bones. The internal obliques are under the external obliques and run on an opposite diagonal and have a few more attachments.

The obliques aid in compressing the abdomen and in forward-bending. They are also the hard workers that help us in side-bending and twisting our torso.

Oblique Workout Exercises

Now that you know what the obliques do, you have some idea of the kind of exercises you need to do to work them: twisting, side-bending, and abdominal compression.

We start with abdominal compression. Basically, that means you are going to pull your abs in. You want some level of full abdominal muscle engagement in all of the exercises we are going to discuss. You need those abs engaged pulled up and in with presence) in order to accomplish the moves and protect your spine.

Here are examples of exercises that will address side-bending and twisting. All of our examples are mat exercises.

Side Bending

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

  • Mermaid (pictured): provides a great stretch and can be used as a warm-up or as a more intense stretch later in your routine.
  • Side Bend

Twisting Upper Body

Rotating the torso opposite stable hips has an internal oblique focus.

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Twisting Lower Body

The pelvis rotating opposite a stable torso has an external oblique focus.

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

How to Work the Obliques Safely

Focus on Form

Keep in mind that the obliques work in concert with your other abdominal muscles and really all the muscles of your Pilates powerhouse—abs, back, hips, pelvic floor. It is not recommended to focus just on obliques, but rather obliques in the context of a full-body workout. We want form and function along with a waistline.

Avoid Compression of the Spine

You also want to avoid compression of the spine. The idea is to go for length in the spine and not let a side bend or twist shorten or compress it in any way. This is where your Pilates powerhouse and knowing how to pull your abs in a balanced way is important. You might think of side-bending as making a long arc rather than a side crunch. It needs to be long and lifted from underneath.

Twist, Don't Torque

Remember too that a twist is not a torque or a rock. In other words, to make the twists you do effective and safe, be sure they are lengthening twists done with control. The last thing you want to do is just torque one part of your body against another. Also, when it comes to twisting, there is a tendency to just rock from side to side, or in the case of the upper body twist, to just look where we want to go or only take the shoulders. A real upper body twist takes the whole rig cage around with the head and sternum in a line.

One of the best ways to get your oblique workouts is in a balanced Pilates workout which will always feature twisting and bending exercises unless it is for a population for whom those are contraindicated.

By Marguerite Ogle MS, RYT
Marguerite Ogle is a freelance writer and experienced natural wellness and life coach, who has been teaching Pilates for more than 35 years.