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Obliques & Intercostals

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Photography by Trine de Florie

Photography by Trine de Florie

Left unattended and ignored (and downright neglected) the obliques will ally themselves with the equally slothful abdominals to result in a what is known as a 'beer gut'. While the abdominal may do all the work for said beer gut, the obliques will finish it off nicely with some love handle action.

Got the picture so far?

Now I'm not a fitness freak gym junkie and talking down on those lacking washboard abs. I'm one of the unwashed. And I find that the slim and trim stomach THE hardest part of all the body parts and muscle groups. So this hub (and the flat stomach chiseled abs one) is all about me motivating me. I've been searching high and low for the best, most effective exercises to blast these areas. And I'm incorporating these into my own exercise program.

My arms, shoulders, chest and legs respond well to working out, but for me, the torso is a hard and stubborn region. What probably doesn't help is my wife's excellent culinary skills (or my love of ice cream and chocolate, which I've banned from the house since I've started working out seriously).

So it's going to take more than weight training to bring these babies into shape. I'll be needing to get some other fat burning exercise happening. I hate aerobics, and cycling isn't practical around where I live. I think I'll have to rely on some walking.

Not to mention cutting down on my meal sizes.

Can I do it?


A Closer Look At The Obliques And Intercostals

The obliques are on the the side of your midsection (right next to where your abs should be). They start at the bottom of your rib cage down to your pubic area.

The obliques are made up of external and internal obliques. Imagine for a moment (the R&B singer) Usher: those bits down near his belt line that he likes to show off to the ladies (and it drives them wild apparently) are the internal obliques.

My 16 year old son has them. Without ever having worked on them. I'd hate him for it but he is my firstborn, so I must learn to let go and move on.

Your obliques help you bend from side to side and also twist your torso (flexion and rotation). Your lower back gets extra support by having strong obliques and therefore reduces the chances of back pain and posture problems.

On top of the obliques, and to the side of the chest are the intercostals. Between the intercostals and the lats is the serratus.

The serratus and intercostals work together, which I'll probably mention again in the Serratus hub. You'll hit them when you get to the extreme point of upper abdominal contraction. Otherwise you can just let them go along with the ride and be trained with the pecs and lats. A lat pulldown and a pec pullover will give them enough attention unless you're seriously focused and determined to be a competitive bodybuilder.

1. Abdominals, 2. Serratus, 3. Intercostals, 4. Obliques

1. Abdominals, 2. Serratus, 3. Intercostals, 4. Obliques

Kinesiology & Physiology

Doing oblique exercises properly can speed up achieving the tight waistline result that you're after

Keep in mind that you can't 'spot reduce'. Exercise builds muscle, and can burn calories, but if you want noticeable fat reduction it will happen all over, and that can only come about by maintaining a healthy diet and including some kind of cardiovascular activity in your routine.

Prior to exercising the muscle group be sure to warm-up and stretch. While exercising the muscle group, be sure to breathe properly. Don't hold your breath. Breathing allows oxygen to get to the muscles via the blood stream. Your muscles need that oxygen.

Dumbbell Side Bends

This develops lateral stability of the spine by strengthening the obliques. Lower a weighted dumbbell slowly down your side. Keep your other hand behind your head, elbow bent. Repeat on the other side.

Dumbbell Side Bend Demonstration

Abdominal Side Twists

One exercise that should never be done with a heavy weight is the twist, which will build up the obliques (the muscles on the sides of the waist). A light broomstick is enough resistance for most people and twists should be done for high reps — 100 or more per set. The twist also works the intercostals (those muscles on the sides of the waist below the serratus)

Imagine that your lower body is set in concrete and you can only turn the upper body. Now twist from side to side. Do the first set slowly to warm up and to stretch the muscles out, but on the remaining sets you should be twisting quickly and vigorously. Do 100 reps per set.

Abdominal Side Twist Demonstration

Other hubs in the series:



Glen (author) from Australia on August 21, 2010:

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Genetics will play a part, as some might only be able to show a "4 pack" or even an "8 pack". While a "6 pack" seems to be the norm there's also even and uneven defined abs. Some line up neatly while others seem a bit off-skew.

Shane on August 17, 2010:

Great post Darkside. The illustration helped a lot. I'm just now learning there are more than abs and obliques. I've been working my abs for a couple months now and I'm noticing that they really aren't getting bigger. I started off with small abs and barely any fat, packed on some muscle with a bit of fat, and now the fat's coming off and my abs really don't seem any bigger.

Is there a genetic factor to the shape and development of abs? If I have the flat stomach look is it just going to get denser or are my abs going to start developing peaks?

Research Analyst on July 26, 2009:

This hub motivates me as well when it comes to those hard washboard abs I can only dream of such a physique, janet jackson is the person who comes to mind when I think of tight, fit and sexy abdominal, thanks for the helpful tutorial videos.

Glen (author) from Australia on June 28, 2009:

rb11, is that a big ball for sitting on in front of the computer?

Kevin Peter from Global Citizen on June 28, 2009:

now looking for a 6 pack body

rb11 from Las Vegas on June 26, 2009:

For cardio and weight loss I've read people who can't (due to illness) or inactive that infrared heat is a deep penetrating cardio stimulator. A friend of mine who is a bodybuilder (not I) had me use the big ball, it really makes you use all muscles for balance and strength without hurting your back. Somewhere within there is a 6 pack waitng to emerge.


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