Oblique Crunches – Crunch Time: From Basics to Best Alternatives

oblique crunches

Looking for a stronger, more functional core?

Beyond the aesthetic allure of a chiseled midsection, your obliques play a pivotal role in daily activities, from picking up groceries to dancing the night away.

Dive into this guide on oblique crunches and unlock both the visual and practical benefits of a robust core.

We’ll unravel the science behind these muscles, show you the best ways to train them, and discuss how oblique crunches stack up against alternative exercises when it comes to getting results.

Whether you’re aiming for beach-ready abs or a back that says “thank you” every day, this is your blueprint.

So, let’s twist into action and explore the side of core training many overlook.

Quick Summary

  • The obliques consist of external and internal muscles, playing vital roles in torso rotation, lateral flexion, and providing stability.
  • Oblique crunches are effective for toning and defining the side abdominal muscles, but with certain limitations like potential strain on the lower back and challenges in progressive overload.
  • Exploring exercises like suitcase carries, weighted dead bugs, side planks, and broomstick twists can offer varied benefits, catering to different fitness goals and preferences.

A Brief Biology Lesson – What Actually are the “Obliques”?

When we talk about the “core,” most minds dash to the rectus abdominis… the poster child of the six-pack dream. However, hiding just beneath the surface (literally) are the obliques… playing a pivotal yet often overlooked role in our overall movement.

There are two main types of obliques:

  • Internal Obliques – These lie just below the surface, nestled under the external obliques. They play an important role in respiration, aiding in forced exhalation when you’re, say, blowing up a balloon or giving a hefty sigh. They also assist in tilting and twisting the torso.
  • External Obliques – Positioned on either side of your six-pack, these are the largest of the abdominal muscles. They’re the champs of trunk rotation, helping you twist and turn. Ever tried touching your elbow to the opposite knee? Thank the external obliques.

Your obliques are pivotal not just for those stunning side-ab aesthetics, but for everyday actions, from rotating to bending over. They’re the true multitaskers of the midriff, ensuring fluidity and strength in our every twist and turn.

How to do Oblique Crunches

To do oblique crunches:

  • Lie flat on your back on a comfortable surface, like a mat.
  • Bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart.
  • Place one hand behind your head lightly supporting the neck, and let the other arm rest stretched out on the floor.
  • Before you move, tighten your abdominal muscles. Think of it as pulling your belly button toward your spine.
  • Lift your upper body and twist diagonally, attempting to bring your right elbow towards your left knee.
  • Ensure you’re lifting with your obliques and not pulling with your hands or neck. Your hands are there just for support.
  • Slowly lower your upper body back down to the starting position.
  • Repeat the movement, this time bringing your left elbow towards your right knee.
  • Aim for 10 repetitions on each side to start, gradually increasing as your strength improves.

Muscles Worked During Oblique Crunches

The oblique crunches are a dynamo when it comes to engaging a range of muscles. At the forefront are, of course, the obliques.

Both the external and internal obliques are activated with each deliberate twist and crunch. They’re the muscles that run down the sides of the abdomen, and this exercise is designed to give them a good workout.

But there’s more to the story. The rectus abdominis, which many of us affectionately know as the “six-pack” muscle, also gets in on the action. Running vertically down the front of the abdomen, it lends a hand (or muscle fiber, if you will) in the lifting aspect of the crunch.

Beneath the surface, the transverse abdominis is subtly but surely engaged. This deep-seated muscle wraps itself snugly around the spine, playing a vital role in stability. Its involvement ensures that your core remains steady as you add the twist.

Lastly, a nod to the hip flexors. Situated at the top front of your thighs, these muscles get a minor workout too, especially when the legs are involved in the crunching motion.

Oblique Crunches Benefits

Enhanced Core Stability

The twisting motion of oblique crunches works to strengthen not just the obliques, but also other key abdominal muscles. As these muscles become more robust, they offer better support to the spine.

This added stability aids in everyday movements and can significantly improve posture.

Improved Athletic Performance

Many sports require a strong torso for movements like throwing, twisting, or changing direction.

Oblique crunches, with their focus on the side muscles of the abdomen, build strength in these areas, equipping athletes with the power and agility needed for their specific sports.

Medicine ball side throws are another great way to improve rotational power and strength.

Defined Waistline

Regularly engaging in oblique crunches can help sculpt the sides of the abdomen. This focused exercise helps tone the obliques, which can lead to a more defined and cinched waistline, enhancing the “V” shape many aim for (your body fat percentage will also heavily influence the appearance of your waistline too).

Injury Prevention

A strong core is pivotal in reducing the risk of injuries, especially in the lower back.

By strengthening the obliques and the surrounding muscles, oblique crunches provide a protective layer around the spine. This means daily tasks involving bending or lifting become less of a strain.

Functional Benefits for Daily Life

Whether it’s picking up a bag of groceries or turning to chat with a friend, rotational movements are integral to our daily life.

Oblique crunches simulate and strengthen these very motions, ensuring we can twist and turn with ease and without discomfort.

Oblique Crunches Variations

Leg Position

Start with your back flat on the ground and cross one ankle over the opposite knee. As you crunch up, twist towards the side of the crossed leg. This variation places a bit more emphasis on one side, making the obliques work even harder.

Stability Ball

Position your hip on a stability ball with your feet planted firmly on the ground or against a wall for support. Place your hands behind your head and, maintaining balance, lift your upper torso off the ball in a side crunching motion.

This incorporates balance and engages the obliques dynamically.

Side Lying Oblique Crunch

Lie on your side with your legs stacked on top of each other. You can keep the bottom arm extended for balance. As you exhale, lift your upper torso and legs simultaneously, squeezing the obliques. Return to the starting position and repeat on the same side before switching.

Refresh Tired Workouts

Each variation offers a unique challenge, targeting the obliques slightly differently and introducing new elements like balance or angle. Incorporating these variations can keep your workout routine fresh and ensures that your obliques are being trained comprehensively.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Pulling on the Neck – One of the most frequent errors is using the hands to pull the head and neck up during the crunch. This not only reduces the effectiveness of the exercise but can strain the neck. Ensure your hands are merely cradling your head for support, and the lifting motion comes from your obliques.

Lack of Control – Speeding through the movements can compromise form and reduce the exercise’s effectiveness. It’s really important to maintain a controlled pace, focusing on the muscle contraction and ensuring proper form throughout.

Not Engaging the Core – Forgetting to activate the core before starting can lead to a less effective workout and potential strain on the back. Always remember to tighten the abdominal muscles, pulling the belly button toward the spine, before initiating the crunch.

Overarching the Back – Pressing the lower back into the ground too forcefully can cause discomfort and potential injury. Keep a natural spine curve and focus on the oblique engagement.

A Twist in the Story – Are Obliques Worth It?

While oblique crunches have carved out their niche in gyms and home workouts, they aren’t without their set of limitations.

First off, though they can tone and define, there are arguably more potent exercises for bolstering the entire midsection. Moreover, as with many bodyweight moves, progressively overloading the muscles becomes a hurdle.

Beyond a point, upping the intensity for further muscle growth becomes tricky.

And if not approached with precision, there’s a potential risk of straining the lower back.

So while they’re a commendable exercise choice, they might not clinch the top spot for all fitness enthusiasts.

So, what are the alternatives?


Suitcase Carries

How ToTo do suitcase carries, begin by holding a heavy dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand, keeping your shoulders squared and your spine neutral. Walk forward, maintaining an upright posture, resisting the pull of the weight which tries to make you lean to one side.

Difference from Oblique Crunches – Instead of a crunching motion, this exercise involves isometric tension to resist lateral movement.

Who Benefits – Those looking to increase oblique strength in a functional way, such as athletes or individuals who perform lifting in daily tasks.

Weighted Dead Bugs

How ToTo do weighted dead bugs, lie on your back with arms extended straight up and legs raised at a 90-degree angle. Holding a weight or medicine ball between both hands, lower your right arm and left leg simultaneously, keeping the opposite limbs still. Return and repeat on the other side.

Difference from Oblique Crunches – This exercise challenges the entire core, including the obliques, in a coordination-intensive manner.

Who Benefits – Individuals aiming for overall core strength and improved body coordination.

Side Planks

How To – To do side planks, start lying on your side, elbow beneath the shoulder. Lift your hips so that your body forms a straight line from head to heels. Hold this position, ensuring the hips don’t drop.

Difference from Oblique Crunches – Side planks target the obliques isometrically, requiring you to maintain a static position rather than performing a repetitive movement.

Who Benefits – Those seeking endurance and stability in their core muscles without repeated bending motions.

Broomstick Twists

How To To do broomstick twists, stand tall holding a broomstick or rod behind your shoulders. Rotate your torso to one side, return to center, and then rotate to the other side.

Difference from Oblique Crunches – Broomstick twists offer a gentler rotational exercise, focusing on mobility rather than muscular contraction.

Who Benefits – Individuals prioritizing flexibility and range of motion in their torsos, or those in the early stages of their fitness journey.

Bottom Line

While oblique crunches are a classic choice for targeting the oblique muscles, they’re not the only game in town.

Exploring exercises like suitcase carries and side planks can provide dynamic alternatives suited to various fitness goals.

A well-rounded core routine isn’t just about aesthetics, it’s about functionality, strength, and flexibility.

So, mix it up and find what makes your core sing.

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