A Tour Of The Obliques

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The obliques are a part of our abdominal muscle group, which also includes the rectus abdominus (the six pack muscles) and the transverse abdominus (Elvis belt).  The obliques are comprised of the internal and external obliques.  Our abdominal organs rely on our four abdominal muscles for support and protection.

Internal Obliques:

The internal obliques are superficial to the transverse abdominus (the deepest of our four abdominal muscles).  They originate from the inguinal ligament (front bikini line), iliac crest and thoracolumbar fascia and insert into the lower 3 ribs and the abdominal aponeurosis to the linea alba.  The internal obliques when working individually bend the trunk laterally, and draw the opposite shoulder forward.  When working together, the internal obliques flex the torso and contribute to the “air bag” tubular core effect that protects the lower back.

External Obliques:

The external oblique is superficial to the internal oblique.  The fibers run as if you are putting your hand in your pocket.  The external oblique originates at the external surface of the 5th to 12th ribs and insert into the anterior part of the iliac crest and abdominal aponeurosis to the linea alba.  They laterally flex the torso when working individually and draw the same side shoulder forward.  When working together, the external obliques work with the internal obliques to flex the torso and contribute to the tubular core to protect the lumbar spine.

The obliques criss cross each other to make an X across the torso.  Ida Rolf in “Rolfing” states that the tone of the oblique and rectus abdominus among other muscles that attach to the pelvis “. . . furnish an index to the general health and wellbeing of the pelvic and abdominal organs.”

In Thomas Meyer’s “Anatomy Trains,” the obliques make up part of the Spiral Line.  The serratus anterior meshes with the external obliques which cross over the front of the body and meshes with the internal obliques on the other side.  Thomas Meyers states that the spiral line participates in creating twists, rotations, and lateral shifts in the body.

In pilates, the abdominals, pelvic floor, diaphragm and spinal muscles make up the “core.”  In Yoga Tune Up® they contribute to the tubular core.

Waking Up Your Obliques:

To awaken your obliques, practice the Yoga Tune Up® Sidewinder pose (included below and also on the 5 Minute Quick Fix for Lower Back).  This will really get you to notice your obliques and how much they support you in everyday life.

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Renee Dello

In her day job, Renee works as a Senior Analyst in Waste Diversion Planning for the City of Toronto and focuses on improving recycling in apartments and condos. She teaches yoga and pilates part time. Her love of yoga and anatomy has brought her to Yoga Tune Up (which she also incorporates into pilates classes). Yoga Tune Up® has refreshed her practice and renewed her enthusiasm for teaching. She loves lifelong learning especially on the topics of anatomy and physiology and has recently completed studies in natural nutrition to become a Registered Holistic Nutritionist.

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Jackie Wolff

This is great. I love your writing and how you incorporate words by leaders in the body work field with your own personality. I really love the ‘Elvis belt’ for the TA. I am totally stealing that! And it’s so interesting to explore the idea that freeing up and massaging the abdominal muscles unlocks freedom from pain in the internal organs it protects.

isabelle deschenes

Good informations about the obliques, and this sidewinder is on of my favorite yoga tune up pose. Help my lower back and my abdominals muscles.

Nadine Maskallis

Love this outline of the obliques, how they contribute to body movement and their function when it comes to the direction of movement. Thank you also for the Rolfing and Anatomy Trains references.

Lisa Federico

Thanks Renee for comments associating ab obliques with other muscles. Always helpful to see broader than one specific area for application of movement. I hadn’t seen Jill’s video of ‘crazy’ sidewinder! Love it and will use in conjunction with more controlled version…looks like fun!

Lisa Pitel-Killah

What a fabulous oblique round up and I think sidewinder is an amazing pose to compliment! I will definitely be using this with some of my teachings!

Lisa Pitel-Killah

Great descriptive of the abdominals and very easy to understand. I think that sidewinder is an awesome pose and I will definitely be using it in my teachings!

Michelle Officer

I love all the detail you included here about other modalities and how they tend to refer to the “core” differently than we do in YTU.
And I love the inclusion of side winder!
This has become one of my favorite go tos for isolating the actions of the obliques whilst gaining proprioception of the pelvis having to remain stable on the floor rather than allowing it to enter rotation.

Johanne Leroux

Mon YTU professeur, Mimi, aime appeler cette pose “la laveuse”, ce qui présente de façon très colorée et efficace, les efforts que doivent fournir les obliques pour produire ces flexions latérales.


Thank you for this refresher on the obliques. I enjoyed how you shared the perspectives of several different movement philosophies on these important muscles.

Eileen Riordan O'Sullivan

Often forgotten part of our side body & vital part of our Corset of Core muscles – Side winder certainly reminds you of that. Interesting coordination & helpful to bring lateral flexion & extension into the body wisdom.

Stacey Rosenberg

Thanks for outlining the internal and external obliques. I love the sidewinder – one of my new favorite poses.


The detailed information about the obliques and their location is helpful, and some of the exercises that target this area like side winder are great fun. Good area to keep strong in order to avoid injury.

Isabelle Barter

Thank you! Your descriptions paint a very realistic picture for me to understand where the internal and external obliques are located. Your examples were very easy for me to perform and activate and find where the muscle groups are on my own body.

Victoria Ryder-Burbidge

Thanks for the post. I love the connections that the body has through fascia. The shoulder is connected to the hip bone??? That is what is great about YTU. The sidewinder exercise is also great for strengthening the core when there are back weaknesses since you are fully supported on the floor throughout the full range of motion.


Great tour on the obliques, and descriptions used (tansverse abdominus and the Elvis belt). I just recently discovered the sidewinder and it’s one of my new favourite moves, as you can really feel the benefits of this pose! Just in time for summer!


Thank you for giving me a tour of my muscles in this particular area. I’m inspired to look deeper in my obliques area as a way to strengthen my back.


Very in depth description, thank you very much for taking the time to research. Will be sharing this article with my students for sure!

3 Yoga Abs Exercises for Core Strength | Yoga Tune Up

[…] Side bends: The obliques are often misrepresented as the ubiquitous “side-bending” muscle. They are actually two layers […]

Angela Medina

When I went to the Chabot Observatory they have all these ‘exercises’ where you can sort of simulate the astronaut experience of functioning in zero gravity. One of the exercises was a mechanic simulation and in order to move through space, you had to do a motion similar to the one described above. I was so sore, because I was forced to use my obliques and legs more than Im used to. I think in walking upright and against gravity, we tend to use (or feel) the use of the rectus abdominus and erector spinae much more than the obliques.… Read more »

Melissa Tilley

Great share Renee! Loved the tip in the video where Jill suggests using a garbage bag if you are on a carpet surface! I enjoyed reading your breakdown of the external and internal obliques. Thank you for sharing some great resources for us to check out more information.

Elissa Strutton

Great cues to help visualize and feel the external vs. internal obliques, to differentiate between their individual actions they are responsible for as well as how they work together. By effectively connecting with the obliques, we can create twists, flexion, and lateral shifts in the body while still maintaining the “tubular core” to protect the spine. Sidewinder is a fun dynamic pose that’s helping me awaken the obliques like nothing I’ve experienced before. Definitely an “aha” moment for me!


I love the sidewinder. It’s a unique variation of the same old ho hum ab exercises that we’ve all done. I particularly appreciate the the head is on the ground during this pose — so much less strain on the neck. I also love the concept of the tubular core. At first during training I couldn’t quite get the concept of tubular core, but now that I’ve been hearing it over and over, it works.


I love your focus on the obliques! They are so important for so actions in daily life and in so many of our yoga poses. Sidewinder is a great way to playfully activate them. I really appreciate the tubular core and have found it so helpful in my personal practice to help keep the spine safe and core engaged.


I definitely think the rectus abdominals get too much credit these days and the oblique muscles are under appreciated. So many people are suffering from lower back pain and strengthening the obliques is a great way to limit this epidemic in our culture. I love the sidewinder exercise it really helps to fire the obliques immediately. It is a lot more challenging than it appears (as Jill talks so effortlessly)!

Barb Voss

I especially loved working on the sidewinder pose with a partner. That really facilitated finding the obliques and developing a greater awareness of how to tap into these amazing abdominal muscles. I look forward to taking this greater awareness into activating the tubular core more efficiently!


Thank you Renee for this detailed explanation of the obliques. I am still trying to figure out how to identify and activate these different abdominal layers in my own body, and your descriptions are really helpful. Jill Miller’s playful exercise looks like a lot of fun but when you actually do the work you see how serious it is. Occasionally when I do this exercise my mid thoracic spine feels pinched afterwards. I know I am stiff in those vertebrae, maybe I just need to go slower at first? Are there any alignment principles I am neglecting? Thanks.

Kate Kuss

Would you define superficial as “laying on top”? Thank you for the post. Does the sidewinder work all the abdominal muscles? Is there an abdominal muscle that is overly used or do they work together? Thanks again for the post. I’m getting curious about the abs 🙂

Kristin Marvin

I just saw a video from Gil Hedley with him stripping away the external obliques from the body. On paper diagrams the obliques look like fairly sizeable muscles but on a cadaver they are so THIN. I was amazed at how small they were. And he was so excited about being able to separate it! The human body is a surreal piece of art.

Lisa Highfield

A strong core is definitely the trunk to a strong body. Thanks for the great exercise tip definitely something I am working on improving for my overall health and wellness.


Great explanation of the obliques. Sidewinder definitely shocks those obliques awake! I’m going to add that into my normal core routine. Thanks!