Hello all! Welcome back after a little hiatus as I moved across country to my new home in Seattle! I hope life finds everyone fabulous!
So excited to get back into our awesome series on the oh-so-important abdominals! Last time we chit chatted about the transverse abs, one of the most important muscles of the body. Before delving into the next layer of abs it is imperative that you have indeed read the last article on the transverse abs because everything else is built on that knowledge. If you haven't had the pleasure or need a quick brush-up, check it out HERE!
So to review, here are the three layers of abdominals:
WE HAVE THREE LAYERS OF ABS:
1. Rectus Abdominus (aka 6-pack)
2. Obliques (external and internal)
3. Transversus Abdominus
What is it?
Right above our transverse abs we have our obliques. The obliques are made up of two different parts, the internal oblique and the external oblique. They are the muscles that run diagonally in opposite directions, crossing near the side of your midsection and are responsible for movements such as side bending, torso twisting, breathing, and torso stability.
Where is it?
Internal Obliques: Lies between the transversus and external oblique. It attached below to the inhuman ligament and iliac crest (think pubic bone to sides of pelvis/pelvic bone). It also attaches behind at the lumbodorsal fascia (connective tissue at low back), above at the lower four ribs, and in front at a very broad aponeurosis (broad, flattened tendon).
External Oblique: Lies above the internal oblique and is attached to the outer surfaces of ribs 5-12 and to the ilioinguinal ligament (ligament from front hip bone to pubic bone). In front below, it forms a broad aponeurosis (tendon) ending at the linea alba (center connective tissue of 6-pack) and inguinal ligament.
Why are they important?
The obliques are vital for more reasons than just side bending. These fellas are here for our stabilizing enjoyment. They are some of the key reinforcers for core stability. They support our spine and lower back, preventing sports/exercise-related injuries, back pain, and postural problems. Think of when we sprain an ankle. With no support from ligaments, that ankle is in serious danger for re-injury without a brace. So we stabilize the joint by wrapping a bandage around the knee in an X shape to make sure it's receiving support from all directions.
Think of the obliques as that Ace bandage. The transverse abs are working at stabilizing that torso (thankfully because the 6-pack has limited skills in that area!) but they need the lateral support from the obliques to truly be affective.
Without strong obliques and abdominals to hold the pelvis stable, stress is placed on the hamstrings which often leads to muscle tears and over-dominance of the external hip rotators.
And lastly I will mention we love our obliques because they do create that lovely hourglass figure for the women-folk and the that super chiseled cut for the dudes. Yes please!!
How do I engage my obliques?
The obliques help us to exhale, rotate, side bend, and even flex the spine, so there are a number of ways to engage these puppies. We are going to focus on side bending and rotation. And remember as we start to break down some of these exercises, obliques are not just engaged by exertion. They are also tapped into with the de-accelaration of a movement. So that means control the transitions and "easy part" of each exercise.
Exercises for my obliques
1. Side Crunch
- Lying on your back, rotate knees all the way to the right. Lift arms four inches above the floor, down at your hips with palms facing the ceiling.
- Breath in. As you exhale lift your rotated chest up towards the ceiling and try to lift both shoulder blades off the floor.
- Start with 10 reps on each side, then build to 20.
2. Side Plank
- Lie on your side with your legs straight and slightly in front of you with feet flexed and stacked on top of each other. Top arm is bent or straight at the waist and bottom arm is bent underneath you at a 90 degree angle, with your weight on entire forearm (NOT JUST ON THE ELBOW!)
- Breath in. As you exhale, engage your transverse (feel belly button pressing in towards spine-don't let abs pouch out!) and lift your hips until you are a straight line from your feet to your head. Don't sink down onto that shoulder but keep it strong!
- Hold for 10 seconds and eventually build up to 30 seconds/side.
3. Standing Twist
- Stand with legs hip width apart and in parallel, arms in front of you, holding hand weights or a medicine ball (start with 4lbs and SLOWLY build up to 10 lbs as 4 lbs becomes too easy).
- Breath in. As you exhale, engage your transverse and bend your legs into a deep squat (make sure your butt is sticking out like you're trying to sit in a tiny chair that's too far behind you) and your shoulder blades are squeezing together. At the same time twist your upper body to the right, bringing your hands to right hip.
- On next exhale, tug those abs tighter and stand up bringing hands to high left diagonal while rotating upper body to the left. That's one.
- 10 reps on each side.
Dangers to watch out for:
Isolating the obliques can be challenging because we have other stronger muscles that get in our way. The two muscles that will try to take over every chance they get are the back extensor muscles and the rectus abdominis (6-pack). So how can you tell? If you lean to the side and on your way back to sitting straight you notice your top shoulder dropping forward, then you are indeed using your back extensor muscles to lift. Can you say back ache in the morning? I thought so. However if you sit up and you notice your stomach pooching out that is your 6-pack muscle. Both are stronger and will try to do the work for you. However if you let them how are you ever going to create that hour glass figure?
So it's extremely important to keep in mind two things. First off, engage the transverse before starting any exercise. Press those abs in and down towards the spine! This will make sure the 6-pack isn't leading the battle. Secondly, remember these are tiny nuances. I'm not talking about anything pronounced, just tiny movements. So if there is anyway you can rock these in front of a mirror, even better! A friend with a sharp eye works well too!
And this goes for all ab work! So when you're at Pilates class or at the gym and you have specialized machines to help you get into the obliques, pay attention to what's going on with your torso. You should feel like you're stuck in between two narrow walls, a claustrophobic hallway if you will! You're missing the muscle if not!
So thus concludes our epic tale of the internal and external obliques. Next week we have our third and final installment on the abdominals, the famous rectus abdominis, a.k.a. the six pack! So remember we want strong obliques to look trim and cut; to move through our lives more efficiently, and we want these to stay injury free. It reminds me of an old cowboy saying I once heard: a side plank a day keeps the ol' doc away. Ride that horse, Hoss. Hourglass figure...here we come.