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Work your side abs with these 7 waist-smoothing moves

A white man does a side plank to work on his side abs
Content Editor & Certified Trainer
Lisa studied journalism and is a certified fitness and health trainer, as well as a meditation coach! She spent many years working for different lifestyle and fitness magazines, and she writes articles for us on the topics of working out, fitness, lifestyle and mind.

If you dream of a defined waist and a flatter tummy – it may be within reach! Side abs are the key to this part of the body. Try these targeted moves to work your side abs effectively, and see if they help you towards your feel-good body.

The abdominal muscles at a glance

The abdominal muscles consist of the lateral oblique, the straight and transverse in front, and the deep abdominal muscles behind them. These are the muscles that support our posture and movement of the upper body. They’re also responsible for the stabilization and unloading of the spine. They also, together with other muscle groups, enable our breathing.

The lateral obliques, the side abs, are specifically used to flex the upper body and rotate it to the side. They lie on either side of the straight and transverse muscles. At the back, they connect to the posterior abdominal muscles. As most exercises for the core activate all of the midsection’s muscle groups, it’s useful if you know your way around.

Here’s an overview of the abdominal muscles and their function:

  • Rectus abdominis / straight abdominal muscle: The straight abdominal muscle is responsible for the visual appearance of the six-pack and is an important postural muscle. It ensures that the chest is pulled towards the legs and flexes the torso.
  • Transversus abdominis / transverse abdominal muscle: The transversus abdominis is also active during flexion. It’s responsible for contracting the abdomen and lowering the ribs. It is also involved in exhalation.
  • Musculus obliquus internus abdominis, Musculus obliquus externus abdominis / internal and external oblique abdominal muscles: The lateral abdominal muscles are the ‘side abs’: they’re responsible for rotation in the upper body and help give the look of defined abdominal muscles.
  • Musculus quadratus lumborum and musculus iliopsoas / posterior abdominal muscles: The quadratus lumborum muscle tilts the torso to the side, stabilizes the lower ribs during inhalation, and assists in exhalation. The iliopsoas muscle is the strongest flexor of the hip joint and is involved in straightening the trunk from the supine position. In addition, it can externally rotate the thigh.

What are the benefits of exercising the side abs?

Lateral oblique exercises are a great addition to any core routine. However, it’s important to note that abdominal training doesn’t automatically melt fat from your midsection. To lose weight, exercise should be paired with the right diet. Generally speaking, to lose belly fat and make your six-pack visible, you need to burn more calories than you eat.

The defined abs and tummy of an athlete with brown skin, from lower ribs to just below the navel. The side abs are visible, as is the athlete's six-pack.
©Jordan-Beal-EyeEm

So, ab exercises don’t do anything? Sure they do! And having a strong core is about much more than just a six-pack, anyway. Oblique exercises are a great way to increase your daily caloric expenditure, since the more muscle mass you have, the higher your basal metabolic rate. In addition, you can strengthen and define the lateral muscles through targeted training, so that your waist looks visually firmer and narrower.

More reasons why it pays to train your entire core: Along with your back muscles, your abs stabilize your spine. Regular exercise can help you improve your posture, counteract an arched back, and prevent back pain. Without core tone, we would be unable to straighten up, hold ourselves upright, and move around. We also need our abs to bend, stretch, or rotate. On top of all that, strong stomach muscles improve balance and body awareness. Whether it’s weight training, running, or yoga, every type of activity can benefit from it.

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Common mistakes with ab workouts

Focusing on your abs is a great addition to your fitness routine – whether you’re looking to lose weight and define your core, increase your performance, or balance out constant sitting. To get the most out of your sweaty workouts, avoid the following mistakes:

#1 Training in too much isolation

Exercises for the obliques are useful, but they are by no means the solution to all your problems. The body is a functional unit, which means that its different parts always work together. Therefore, you shouldn’t only train individual muscle groups in isolation, but rather as a whole.

What this means for your ab workout: Make sure you have a well-structured workout plan that includes exercises for the whole body. For example, squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, and bench presses. With full-body exercises like these, you’ll automatically strengthen your side abs as well.

#2 You either over- or under-exert yourself

If you overload your body with heavy weights or high repetitions, you risk back pain, strains, or other muscular ailments. On the other hand, if you are too careful, you’re unlikely to make much progress. Balance, as in most things, is crucial!

As a rule of thumb, the last two repetitions of a set should be challenging, though manageable if the exercise is performed correctly.

#3 You don’t take breaks

Instead of working your abs every day, stick to three to four times a week – 10 minutes is quite enough. Don’t forget that with most full-body exercises like squats, push-ups, or lunges, as well as with cardio, you are activating your core anyway. That’s why it’s important to take breaks and help your body recover.

Try our Recovery Aminos with easily available carbs and essential amino acids – a natural complement to enough sleep and recovery.

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#4 You’re eating an unbalanced diet

Porridge, Eier und Pancakes auf dem Tisch
©foodspring

If you want to define your abs, you need to eat enough. Your muscles need enough energy in the form of carbohydrates and fats. Proteins, in turn, help your muscles to recover and grow.

Our tip: Simply don’t have the time for a balanced, healthy meal? Then a Whey Protein Shake is the ideal nutritional boost to make sure you’re getting what you need. Just fill your shaker with water or milk, add the protein powder, shake, and you’re set.

#5 You are relying on momentum

If you are working from momentum rather than using your core, you risk putting unnecessary strain on your back. Moreover, if you aren’t engaging your abs properly, you leave most of the work to your hip flexors.

The more slowly you move, the more you need to activate your deep core muscles in order to do so. These are not responsible for the visual six-pack, but they do improve your general body tone and allow you to move with power. So always pay attention to a controlled, technically clean execution and keep your tummy tight. It helps to imagine pulling your belly button under your ribs.

#6 You’re holding your breath

Ab exercises are no walk in the park. It’s easy to forget to breathe when you’re doing them because of how much you’re tightening your upper body. But your muscles need plenty of oxygen to perform at full capacity. As soon as you catch yourself holding your breath, take a second to find your steady breath again: exhale when exerting, inhale when releasing.

7 side abs exercises

Here are our top 7 exercises for strong obliques:

Side Plank

Start lying on your side: Keep your elbow below your shoulder and your forearm parallel to the end of the mat on the floor. Straighten your legs. They should lie on top of each other and form a line with your glutes and upper body. Press the bottom outer edge of your feet into the floor, as well as your forearm, and push your hips up toward the ceiling. Don’t let yourself down! Consciously activate your lateral abdominal muscles to hold the position. Then switch sides.

Plank with Rotation

Start in that side plank position – either on your knees or with your legs extended. Your elbow should be positioned underneath your shoulder. Support yourself into a forearm plank position and lift your hips up. You should feel those side abs kick into gear right away. Extend your upper arm toward the ceiling and thread it under your torso towards the floor. Repeat the rotation. Your gaze should follow your movement. Keep your hips high in the air the whole time.

Our tip: You can find even more planking variations here. Plus: Our free 30-day plank challenge!

Try a Plank Challenge

Russian Twist

Sit on an exercise mat with your torso upright and legs bent. Lean your upper body back slightly, keeping your abs tight, and lift your lower legs so they’re parallel to the floor. Place your hands in front of your chest. Now rotate your torso to the side and lightly touch the floor with your fingertips. Your lower body should stay as still as possible. Return to the center and continue rotating directly to the other side, where you again will tap the floor lightly. Repeat the exercise as if in one smooth movement.

Our tip for more intensity: Do the twisting motion with a weight in both hands.

Bicycle Crunch

Lie on your back and bring your hands to your head. Raise your legs so your upper and lower legs form a 90 degree angle, and your knees are above your hips. Extend one leg long, bringing it towards the floor without putting it down. At the same time, rotate your torso to the opposite side, touching your knee with your elbow. Bend your knee again and repeat the movement on the other side. Speed up the movement so you alternate sides in a flowing motion, like cycling.

Sit Ups with Twist

Lie on the mat with your feet shoulder width apart. Choose to have your arms either crossed in front of your chest, stretched out in front of you with your hands clasped to form a pistol, or with your fingertips at your temples. Lift your shoulder blades off the floor, contract your abs, and sit up. Rotate to one side in the upward motion, twisting your torso. Bring your elbow to the opposite knee or your extended arms along the side of the opposite leg. Come back towards the floor and change direction.

Our tip: Here are more effective sit-up variations for your full ab workout!

Lateral Leg Lowering

Lie on your back on a mat, lift your legs, and stretch them out long. Push the soles of your feet toward the ceiling and form an “L” shape. Place your arms at your sides. Now begin to slowly lower your legs to one side. Stop short of the floor and slowly return your legs to center. Perform the same movement to the other side. Your shoulders always remain firmly connected to the floor. If it’s too difficult to perform with your legs extended, bend your knees slightly. Be sure to maintain that abdominal tension.

Side bend with dumbbells

Grab a pair of dumbbells and hang your arms extended with your palms facing your body. Stand hip-width apart and contract your abs. Now tilt your upper body to one side as far as possible, letting the dumbbell move along the thigh toward the floor. Straighten up slowly and repeat the movement on the other side.

Summary

  • Exercises that isolate the midsection and strengthen the side abs, or the obliques, can contribute to a healthy posture and prevent back pain.
  • Incorporating these exercises to your workout routine two to three times per week is a good idea for the lateral abdominal muscles.
  • Most full-body exercises, such as squats, lunges, pull-ups and push-ups, train the abs as well.
  • In addition to ample recovery and consistency in your workouts, nutrition is a key player in keeping your body strong and healthy.
  • Avoid relying on momentum and holding your breath during ab workouts.
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