Obliques (The Exercise) to Find Obliques (The Muscles)

Obliques is the kind of exercise that has been around the block. In yoga, it’s called Yogic Bicycles. Pilates simply calls it Obliques.

You have probably done it in gym class or with fitness videos. My first introduction to Obliques was in ballet class when we would do core work. In my opinion, it’s a necessary evil.

We need to find a way to work our often under-used obliques, but how? Frequently, rotation with flexion is the answer. However, for those with back pain, it is especially important to be mindful of your movements when lifting and rotating.

First, we will go through how to do the modification for Obliques. I like to do this before the regular Obliques exercise because I find that the modification helps me activate the correct muscles.

Modification for Obliques

  1. modification for Obliques, PilatesBegin on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Your arms are by your side and your collarbones are broad. You are in neutral.
  2. Bring your straight left arm across your body and place it on your right thigh. The left arm will stay straight through the whole exercise.
  3. Bend your right elbow and place your right hand behind the back of your head so that your fingertips are touching the part of your skull behind your ear. Broaden your collarbones, especially on the right.
  4. Keeping a neutral pelvis and using Pilates breathing, inhale.
  5. As you exhale, let your low belly drop toward your spine as your left hand slides up your right leg, helping your rib cage to lift and rotate. The right elbow and tricep (back of the arm) stay stable on the floor the whole time. Make sure the pelvis stays in neutral.
  6. Inhale back to center.
  7. Complete 5-10 reps on this side.
  8. Switch sides.


Obliques, Yogic Bicycles

  1. Begin on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. You are in neutral.
  2. Bend both elbows and bring your fingertips onto your skull right behind your ears. In this position, your elbows should relax open allowing the backs of your arms to touch the floor.
  3. Inhale and lift one leg to table top.
  4. Exhale and lift the other leg to table top.
  5. Inhale into the sides of the ribs and let the abdominals relax toward the spine. Make sure the head and neck are in neutral.
  6. Exhale and pivot from the lowest rib, lifting the upper body.
  7. Inhale here.
  8. Exhale and rotate the left ribs toward the right thigh as the left leg stretches out on an angle.
  9. Inhale back to center.
  10. Exhale and rotate the right ribs toward the left thigh as the right leg stretches out on an angle.
  11. Inhale back to center.
  12. Complete 5-10 sets, making sure that the abdominals are low toward the spine. If you should find that your abdominals are pooching out or peaking up, decrease your range of motion. Reduce your twist, don’t let your straight leg lower as much, and make sure your bent leg feels comfortable when it comes toward you.
  13. To lower, inhale and lower the upper body. Exhale and lower one leg then the other. The pelvis should still be in neutral.

I cue for you to keep a neutral pelvis because my philosophy is that if we’re doing core strengthening exercises to help our standing posture, we need to build strength in the muscles in a way similar to how we plan to use them. When we stand, we want the pelvis to be in neutral all the time, so I normally strengthen from neutral as well.

Obliques Video

For the visual learners, here’s a video. Sometimes my video and article do not contain exactly the same information, so it’s worth it to check them both out.

I mentioned gym class, dance class, workout videos, Pilates class, and yoga class–where else have you done Obliques? Let me know in the comments below.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.