I recently took a PRI Integration for Fitness and Movement course from the Postural Restoration Institute that blew my mind, and inspired me to write this post. During the course, I experienced a number of “aha moments,” but my biggest TSN turning point came when I realized that most of us have abysmal control of our obliques.
Before I start rambling on, here’s a visual of the 3 different core muscles I will discuss in this post – the internal and external obliques, and the rectus abdominis.
Okay so we know that most of us don’t engage our oblique muscles effectively. But what are the consequences of that?
There’s nothing wrong with a strong rectus abdominis (RA), everyone loves a 6-pack. But if there’s poor oblique activity, your RA (aka your “6-pack muscle”) will become dominant and lead to dysfunction; specifically feeding poor posture and causing overuse of the back extensor muscles that help to stabilize.
People with lower back and sacroiliac joint pain often have weaknesses in their abdominal muscles, and more specifically, their internal obliques. For this reason it’s important to ensure that all of the muscles that make up your core musculature are integrated, rather than over bracing through your RA.
Check out Bruce Lee’s obliques below. He’s an example of someone with excellent abdominal integration and athleticism.
Here is an image of someone who without a doubt is strong, but presents with a more dominant RA. In other words, he would likely have difficulty engaging his oblique muscles due to the flared out position of his ribcage.
Enough with pictures of shirtless bros…
The oblique muscles also play a huge role in attaining proper positioning of your ribcage. Finding a neutral ribcage, or thorax is one of the most overlooked, yet important aspects of training. The vast majority of the general and athletic populations carry themselves in a state of extension, where the ribcage is flared out and sits forward. If you want to know more about this type of posture and how to correct it, I highly recommend that you checkout this post.
To counteract this posture, it’s essential to have good activation of your internal and external oblique muscles.
The Internal Obliques
- Are traditionally known to help side bend and rotate your torso, BUT they are also responsible for pulling your ribs down and in—to counteract a rib flare
- Help create intra abdominal pressure, which is essential to avoid injury when lifting heavy
- Contract concentrically during forced exhalation and help to brace eccentrically during your inhale, which helps you avoid over bracing with your RA
The External Obliques
- Their textbook job is to rotate your torso and pull your trunk into flexion. However, they also help to pull your ribs down towards your pelvis and your pelvis into posterior pelvic tilt – something that many of us who live in anterior pelvic tilt and rib flare can greatly benefit from
Good integration of your internal and external oblique muscles with your RA are essential to maintaining proper posture and avoiding injury. They’re also easy on the eyes if well defined. ????
Here are some do’s and don’ts to maximize your results:
- DO take a full exhale and focus on pulling your ribcage DOWN, IN, and BACK when bracing your core to help engage your internal and external obliques
- DON’T hollow, or suck in your belly before lifting. This is not an effective way to brace, especially under heavy load
- DON’T only train your RA by doing endless crunches
- DO complete regular diaphragmatic breathing… and the exercises below before your workout as a primer for maximal oblique activation through the rest of your workout
Here are three great exercises to help you strengthen your obliques…
Before throwing yourself into an obscure position, you should be able to engage your obliques on your back with ease. This is as easy as taking a full, forced exhale, while you pull your ribs down, in, and back. Try this exercise to master the basics.
Unilateral Arm Farmer Carries
Maintaining a ribs down position and resisting side bending during Unilateral Arm Farmer Carries is a great way to strengthen your obliques. See video below.
Side Plank with Knee to Elbow
The Side Plank with Knee to Elbow is a more advanced exercise to target your obliques. When performing this exercise, make sure you take a full exhale and drive your ribs down, in, and back with every rep.
If you have any questions about abdominal training, or aren’t sure if you are engaging your core musculature effectively, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also schedule a free fitness assessment with us by click the image below.
Akuthota, V., Ferreiro, A., Moore, T. & Fredericson, M. (2008) Core Stability Exercise Principles. American College of Sports Medicine, 7 (1): 39-44.
Boyle, K., Olinick, J. & Lewis, C. (2010). The Value of Blowing Up A Balloon. North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 5(3): 179-188.