I gotta say, great oblique muscles are more rare than six pack abs. In fact, up until a few years ago I neglected this body part. The thing is, great obliques make the rest of your mid section look fantastic. They “frame” your abs and make them look better. I would go as far to say that I would take average abs and great obliques over great abs and poor obliques. The problem is that most advice on how to work obliques will make your waist and mid-section look blocky. This post will give you a better strategy to add more detail to your mid-section.
[Firm obliques not only make your abs look better, they help protect your spine from injury and stabilize your body. I'm going to explain why isometric exercises are your key to great abs and obliques as well as highlight an extremely efficient oblique exercise that I've been doing the past 3 weeks.]
Isometrics Exercise = Strength and Density Without Size
I advise most people to avoid crunches, various ab machines, and any type of traditional “ab exercise” to get great abs. I have two reasons for this. Reason #1…many of these exercise will toast your spine and kill your posture. Reason #2…doing eccentric and concentric contractions can lead to muscle growth (you want to increase the density of ab muscles not size). Although this muscle growth can be limited by low reps with heavier weights…that is a recipe for a spinal injury when it comes to ab crunching movements. A better way is to tense your abs and obliques against resistance without moving your body (isometric resistance). Building great abs through isometrics is also a way to protect against injury.
The Reason I’ve Recommended Planks Over the Years
For a full explanation of why I do planks and further reason to avoid crunches, read this post I wrote while back: Six Pack Abs – Without Turning Into a Hunchback <---I have links on this post to a post with my 6 minute ab routine as well as an exercise I like to call "Breath of Dragon". You guys will enjoy these if you haven't read them yet. To me the best reason to do planks is that it works your entire mid-section, plus you are contracting your abs when your spine is straight (like when you are standing on the beach). Most other ab exercises contract the abs when the spine is curled forward. So planks reinforce good posture while improving the looks of your abs in your spine's natural state.
Obliques Also Help Twist the Spine – An Isometric For That?
The one missing ingredient in my isometric ab routine was an isometric movement that addressed the twisting function of the obliques. Adding side planks to my ab routine 2-3 years ago was a HUGE step in building better obliques, but I still felt something was missing. I needed an isometric that challenged the oblique’s twisting function. Luckily I found what I was looking for on one of favorite sites… Relative Strength Advantage <---My only complaint is that he needs to post more...common Yavor!
Renegade Rows – The Missing Link
Below this is a video of my buddy Yavor doing “Renegade Rows”. He makes this look really easy and is using incredible form. His video is the best I’ve seen and I’m not just saying that because he is a friend. His form is impeccable. He also did such a good job at explaining proper form and technique, that I will just point you to that post: Renegade Rows – How to Get Ridiculously Hard Abs, Part I. Brilliant post and great explanation!
[Yavor...I love the black and white checkerboard floor! It reminds me of an 80's hair salon. Cue the music..."Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand...Just like that river twisting through a dustly land". Just messing with ya...it looks much nicer than most places I've had a membership to...and if this is your home gym, I'm insanely jealous!]
My First Experience With Renegade Rows
My biggest mistake when starting out was keeping my feet too close together. You will need to spread out your legs to where your feet are at least shoulder width apart. Also, on my very first row one of my legs wanted to come off the ground. I think I pulled to quickly and didn’t brace my body hard enough. I did 5 sets of 5 reps (per side) and was toast by the last set. I only used 30 pounds, but it was plenty for my first time out.
What I’ve Noticed After Just 3 Weeks of Renegade Rows
My obliques are quickly improving, which was expected…but some great side benefits as well. I have noticed that it is easier to do overhead lifts like military press. Also, most weights now feel lighter in my hands and things like bench press and curls seem a bit easier. Your hands will quickly toughen up a bit, because you wind up supporting a lot of weight. My lower abs are getting quite a bit firmer as well. My spine feels better than ever…it feels like this exercise is further protecting my spine. Planks go a long way in spinal injury prevention, but this takes it to the next level.
Ways to Implement Renegade Rows Into Your Routine
I’m doing these 2-3 days per week right after lifting, then I do my 6 minute plank routine followed by HIIT. This exercise warms up the body well for sprinting. It really seems to warm up the hip flexors, quads, etc. You could do them at any point in your routine and twice a week is plenty (I’m experimenting with 3 just to master the lift). I’m guessing that you may be one of the only people in your gym doing these.
Note: This is one of those exercises that doesn’t look like it is doing much, but it requires serious isometric ab contractions when done properly. Over time these hard contractions are going to create serious definition all over your mid-section…including the often neglected obliques.