The Muscles You Need to Train for a Stronger Core

This is Your Quick Training Tip, a chance to learn how to work smarter in just a few moments so you can get right to your workout.

With all of the attention paid to the abs, you’d think that muscle, the rectus abdominis, would be the cornerstone of a powerful core. But there are other muscles that can make an even stronger claim to that title, including the ones flanking your abs on either side of your torso: your obliques.

Extending from your hips to your ribcage, your obliques are not one, but two pairs of muscles. The external obliques are closest to the surface and are the largest of all of the abdominal muscles. Lying directly beneath them are the internal obliques. The fibers of these two muscles run perpendicular to each other, and they work together to bend and rotate your torso from side-to-side, as well as to flex it forward, as you’d do during a situp.

But perhaps the most important function of the obliques is to also resist those same movements to provide spinal support and stability, which not only protects your back, but also facilitates the transfer of power from your lower to your upper body. And that’s where many guys go wrong when training these critical core muscles—they flex and rotate their torsos with exercises such as the side bend and the bicycle crunch, but they don’t perform bracing exercises that emphasize “anti-movement.”

Your move: Hit your obliques from all angles with exercises that challenge each of their primary functions. The hip-up, half-kneeling cable chop, and side plank are all good options. So are offset (uneven load) and unilateral (one-sided) exercises such as the single-arm farmer’s carry and the single-arm bench press.

Just be sure keep the balance of you oblique exercises tipped in favor of those that resist movement, as those are the ones that will hit your obliques the hardest—and lead to the greatest increases in strength and power.

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