Tighten Your Obliques Without Adding Size With These Isometric Exercises

July 16, 2009

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.

oblique muscles

[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.

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Mathew July 23, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Hey Rusty. Thanks for the information. Its gonna help me and also it will help in bringing new clients

Ken August 12, 2009 at 5:54 pm

I like doing the planks, but I don’t notice any after workout soreness like after doing non-isometric ab work. Is that just because I’m not tearing down any old muscle to build more new, and rather just strengthening whats already there?

Bertie August 16, 2009 at 6:15 pm

Just wanted to say, been adding these to my abs routine which I do twice a week and it’s made an awesome difference, really helped tone up my mid-section, especially when I take it nice and slow letting the dumbell down, really really solid exercise right here

Brandon August 17, 2009 at 2:43 pm

did the renegades after the 6 minute plank today…i never really felt obliques tightening with 30s and today i tried with 40s, and i could really feel my obliques tightening. Thanks for the exercise!!

Rahim August 17, 2009 at 3:59 pm

Great post! I’m always looking for ways to improve my abs especially since I feel like I’m hitting a ceiling with my progress. I had actually seen some guys in the park doing a similar looking exercise in the park one day. But the technique in the video above looked more controlled.

vacoder August 20, 2009 at 9:34 pm

Hi Rusty,
I couldn’t agree more, excellent post. I love planks and follow your routine from the earlier post to the T.
I want to find out if there is any harm in doing the planks routine more than once per day?

keep up the good work!

Ron August 21, 2009 at 1:27 am

GREAT post Rusty. I’m going to implement the renegade row into my routine

drew August 28, 2009 at 5:53 pm

Can I do isometrics as much as I want? I do not want to overtrain so I have been keeping sets and reps of all exercises low but focusing on intense muscle contraction. Because they do not break down muscle can I overdo isometrics or will I continue to notice an increase in definition based on the residual tension it creates? Thankyou so much, amazing site.

Mike September 11, 2009 at 5:31 pm

Hey Rusty,
I have pretty big obliques and a pretty small and toned midsection everywhere else. Im thinking they could be bigger from hockey or rock climbing. Could you give me any tips on how to maybe lose some mass in the oblique area and tighten them up a bit?
Thanks so much I love your site

michael January 12, 2010 at 6:04 pm

how did that guy get his obliques to look like that?

Emilio March 23, 2010 at 6:56 pm

When I read your article, I was fascinated by the approach to take on ab workouts. I have been following your posts on exercise techniques and have to say I am a big fan of your approach to workouts. I have been doing renegade rows for few weeks and pleased with results and just recently picked up on plank workouts and my back does not hurt like it use too.

thanks for the advice

pr July 17, 2010 at 6:24 pm

hey i’m liking the exercise to try

saying it gives rock abs….is this more dependent on body type ? could someone get good progression from this and someone else not see the same results ?

obv diff ppl will see different results, but (all respect) i get a bit suss when someone says this exercise will do ‘it’ for you

but the info you have put is good sh*t definitely thx

Ab King Fool September 1, 2010 at 5:51 am

I always wanted good abs. What I did was buy the Ab King Pro, don’t laugh. Well it didn’t work so I went on to follow the abs diet by David Zinczenko. The workout and the diet. Well it worked. Your post is fab I’m going to do that exercise when I get home tonight. I agree the obliques do frame the abs and it just looks awesome.

Thanx again.

Jackson January 25, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Rusty, I think I have a problem with my obliques, I think that they are underdeveloped. I tried to do a serch on the web and found this one guy who called this a “wasp” body? Have you herd of this? I was wondering if this could be fixed with isometrics. Some additional details are that my body fat % is about 12, I’m 5’11 and 17 years old. PLEASE REPLY!!! I have searched multiple placed and am relying on you for help

Ron July 14, 2011 at 1:12 am

These are a great exercise. Very tough to do. I also like using lighter weights and lifting the weight to the side for the delts and rhomboids and in front to work the rotator cuff and the rest of the shoulders.

Bob July 31, 2011 at 11:11 pm

I love this exercise! It’s actually the main reason I go to the gym nowadays (bodyweight goes a long way)

I am looking for equivalents of this exercise with minimal equipement (ideally bodyweight only), does anyone have any ideas? The best I’ve come up with are one-arm pushup (without bending…) or one-arm plank in rings (watch out for your back if you’re not stable!). Would they produce a similar effect?

Great post as always!

Jared October 2, 2011 at 4:22 pm

When I do the renegade rows I like to do a push in between every rep so say I do ten rows each arm i do a push up every time that weight touches the floor this feels great.

Michael McIntyre @ somebodylied.com October 23, 2011 at 12:57 am

If these ever become to easy for you Rusty, would say add some clutch flags and press flags to your routine. When I get strong enough I will definitely be incorporating them from the new convict conditioning

Josh Vales October 23, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Planks are such a killer exercise, I didn’t realize you used them as your main ab buster! Isometric exercises have made my stomach flat and firm, not bloated like many of the traditional ab exercises.

mike December 24, 2011 at 1:50 am

hi m8. terrific site. i have a question regarding my obliques and this one applies to all muscles in my body. the left side differs in size and shape to the right. there is no symmetry. is there any way to achieve this especially for the obliques? is it possible for me to lose the muscle that i’ve built on the obliques and start from the scratch? i’m on this crazy schedule where i’ve gone into burn out mode and i’m trying to lose all the muscle that i’ve built all over kinda like bale in the machinist. i know it’s crazy. i’d like to know what you think. cheers!

Brian July 12, 2012 at 9:53 am

Did I read that correctly? Low reps and using resistance doesnt add muscle. What does that mean? The way you attain a “six pack” is through your eating habits.

Austin October 30, 2013 at 10:31 pm

Hey man great article.. I was just wondering, I do a lot of “windshield wipers” (the oblique exercise hanging from the bar) and I really like the stretch and core strength I get from it. Anyways my question is, will those make my obliques(love handles bigger)? It’s not worth it to me if it’s going to take away from my V taper

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