Five exercises better than side bends to sculpt strong obliques

Swap out this common move for one of these more functional exercises instead

Man performing a side plank for his obliques
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Training your obliques may not be at the forefront of your mind when you’re on a mission to get a rippling mid-section, often it’s the abdominal muscles we’re headset on. But, to build a set of washboard abs, or improve your overall core strength, you need to give them some love and attention. That being said, we’d avoid the side bend.

You may have seen others pumping out 12 to 15 reps on either side of their body with a kettlebell or dumbbell in hand, determined to get their ‘side abs’ to show. But have you ever done a side bend and felt your lower back aching afterwards? This is because it places your spine in an uncomfortable position. Throw some weights into the equation and it's even worse. You also end up using your hips far more than your obliques to perform the exercise so, in terms of bang for your buck, it’s minimal.

There are far better, functional exercises out there that will strengthen your core and give you a much better ab workout. Here are five of our favourites… 

1. Single-arm farmers carry

Two men doing a farmer's carry holding two kettlebells

(Image credit: Getty)

We’ve previously written about why we love farmer carries on T3, as they’re not just great for your obliques, but your core, arms, shoulders and legs. The traditional farmer's carry is performed with either two kettlebells or a pair of dumbbells. But, by carrying just one weight, instead of two, will challenge your obliques even further as they will be working extra harder to stop your torso from bending and twisting. It’ll also make everyday activities easier too, like carrying the shopping.

2. Russian twist

Man doing kettlebell Russian twist exercise

(Image credit: Getty Images)

This classic core exercise will obliterate your obliques and core. Plus, it can be done using either just your body weight, or you can add some weight into the equation for some extra resistance. A tip from Jeff Cavaliere, Strength and Conditioning Coach and Founder of Athlean-X, focus on driving your elbows back during this exercise. This will ensure you’re actually rotating your torso and not just tapping side to side (which won’t do much).

3. Pallofpress

Although it sounds like some sort of mechanical machine, the pallofpress is an excellent core exercise that hits the obliques and abdominal muscles. By slowly pressing a cable (or resistance band) out in front of you, and then back again, it challenges your torso to remain stable while under load. As well as sculpting your mid-section muscles, it also has great carryover for loaded movements, the back squat and deadlift

4. Kettlebell windmill

Woman performing a kettlebell windmill outside

(Image credit: Getty Images)

This exercise is slightly more technical, but if you can master it the payoff is worth it. As well as torching the obliques, it also strengthens your glutes, shoulders, lats and improves your hip mobility and flexibility in the hamstrings. As the name suggests, it's usually performed with a single kettlebell, but a dumbbell will work just as well. If you can’t perform the exercise standing, you can do it half-kneeling instead. 

5. Side plank

Woman doing side plank

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Planks are one of the GOAT exercises when it comes to strengthening our core, but this bad boy will particularly fire up the internal and external obliques. Its greatness doesn’t stop there though, as it’s a compound exercise that also works your shoulders, hips and glutes. It doesn’t require any equipment either, but if you do fancy an extra burn, just grab a dumbbell.  

Bryony Firth-Bernard
Staff Writer, Active

Bryony’s T3’s official ‘gym-bunny’ and Active Staff Writer, covering all things fitness. In her spare time, you will find her in her natural habitat - the gym - where her style of training is a hybrid of bodybuilding and powerlifting. Bryony loves writing about accessible workouts, nutrition and testing innovative fitness products that help you reach your fitness goals and take your training to the next level.