Reduce Back Pain With These 12 Bodyweight Oblique Exercises

In my previous blog post (click here), I wrote about the importance of posture and its influence on back pain. Studies have shown that an excessive lower back arch (anterior pelvic tilt) will put you at a higher risk for injury (1,2). To reduce a lower back arch, I recommended strengthening the glutes, hamstrings, and obliques. Today, I will go into greater detail about the obliques and their influence on posture. 

The external obliques attach to ribs 5-12 and insert into the iliac crest and pubic crest. Since the obliques attachment is above the pelvis, they posteriorly tilt the pelvis when contracted. Also, the external obliques laterally bend and prevent excessive rotation in the trunk. The lower back does well with flexion and extension, but the excessive rotation is a different story. Shirley Sahrmann has said in her book Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes:  "The thoracic spine, not the lumbar spine should be the site of greatest amount of rotation of the trunk… when an individual practices rotational exercises, he or she should be instructed to “think about the motion occurring in the area of the chest." (pg 61-62)

An easy way to prevent lower back rotation is through proper alignment. An overextended lower back will rotate easier than a neutral lower back. And as you can see from the image above, the obliques insert into the front of the pelvis. This insertion point enables the obliques to posteriorly tilt the pelvis. Therefore, to reduce anterior pelvic tilt and lower back rotation, you must have a reliable pair of obliques. So now that you know why you should train your obliques, let us get to the fun part!

Below you will find 12 different bodyweight exercises. The majority of the exercises will be plank variations. I am a firm believer that the plank exercise is one of the best oblique exercises. The goal of a plank is to resist lower back extension and rotation. As I stated above, the obliques are the primary muscles that resist extension and rotation. Thus, if you perform a plank correctly, you will be activating the obliques.  An easy way to increase muscle activation is by adding in a rotation or anti-rotation component through reaches or single arm work. 

Per usual, technique and quality reps will be the most important factor when performing the exercises. I recommend performing only three exercises each month. By performing only three exercises each month, you will be able to take the time to learn the movement and do it correctly. In my experience as a trainer, it takes my clients about a month to become proficient in a movement. For example, some of my clients will feel their six-pack muscles (rectus abdominis) fatigue, instead of the obliques. The obliques are a hard muscle to activate, so be patient and don't rush through the exercises.Without further ado, here are some of my favorite oblique exercises. 

1. Bird Dog Crunch 2-3 x 8 per side

2. Dead Bug 2-3 x 8 per side

3. Forearm Side Plank 2-3 x 15-30 secinds per side

4. Side Plank Hip Lift 2-3 x 10-15 per side

5. Rolling T Plank 2-3 x 6-10 per side

6. Short Plank To Reach 2-3 x 8 per side

7. Seated Anti-Rotation Upper Back Twist 2-3 x 8 per side

8. Crossover Mountain Climbers 2-3 x 30-60 seconds 

9. Bear Hold To Rotating Knee Crunch 2-3 x 8 per side

10. Plank With Shoulder Taps 2-3 x 6-10 per side

11. Single Arm Plank 2-3 x 15-30 seconds per side

12. Single Leg Forearm Side Plank  2-3 x 15-30 seconds per side

Citations

1. Sorensen CJ, Norton BJ, Callaghan JP, Hwang CT, Van Dillen LR. Is lumbar lordosis related to low back pain development during prolonged standing? Man Ther. 2015 Aug;20(4):553-7. doi: 10.1016/j.math.2015.01.001. Epub 2015 Jan 14. PubMed PMID: 25637464; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4469524

2. Fujitani, R., Jiromaru, T., Kida, N., & Nomura, T. (2017). Effect of standing postural deviations on trunk and hip muscle activity. Journal of Physical Therapy Science29(7), 1212–1215. http://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.29.1212

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