Obliques is a term referring to muscles on the side of the upper body that help to assist in turning the body from side to side. They are actually two sets of obliques, called internal and external and each set contracts in a different way during twisting or side-to-side movements. This is the area of the body is also where the famous “love handles” develop, which people work so hard to eradicate.
In the front of the abdomen, there is a major muscle called the rectus abdominis, which stretches from pubis to the ribs. On either side of the rectus abdominis, right at the hips, the internal obliques are located. The external obliques are higher, on either side of the rectus abdominis, and start at the rib cage.
Anytime a person twists the body, both sets of obliques work, but action of each muscle depends on the side to which a person twists. The internal oblique involved when a person twists is located on the same of the side of the twist. For instance, twist to the left and the left internal oblique gets a stretch. In contrast, a twist to the left works the right external oblique muscle, or the one opposite to the direction of the twist. It’s easy to feel this, and the slight pull on the rib cage and chest that occurs when a person engages in a twist.
There is great desire to tone obliques since they can help create a shapely waist, and also cause freer movement. Many of the basic sit-ups and crunches won’t adequately tone oblique muscles, because they involve up and down movement instead of twisting movement. When a crunch incorporates a twist to the side, as the other stomach muscles are contracted, oblique muscles are worked too, and the exercise may be more efficient.
A good sit-up plus twisting exercise is touching the opposite elbows to opposite knees when the body is in the crunch position. This helps use the obliques at the same time it works the rectus abdominis. Such an exercise may be called bicycle crunches.
Other exercises that can work these side abdominal muscles include side bends and waist twists, with or without small weights, which may help lengthen and tone oblique muscles. Many types of exercises that are called “core muscle” exercises, at least partially address obliques, and can be useful in toning this area, while maintaining good range of motion.