What are side bends? (How to build the obliques)

What are side bends

What are side bends?

Side bends are a resistance exercise performed to strengthen and enhance the oblique muscles in the core. Side bends can be performed with dumbbells, weight plates, cables, a machine or on a sit-up bench as a bodyweight exercise.

Which muscles are worked with side bends?

The main muscles activated are the obliques. These are the group of muscles that line either side of the abdominals. The abdominals are also activated to a lesser degree making this a great movement for core development. 

How to do a side bend

Strength trainers do not usually include side bends in their programmes as heavy squats and deadlifts will already engage the obliques as stabilisers to a fair extent. 

Regular compound lifts will usually be enough to strengthen and add mass to your obliques. Bodybuilders that get down to a certain body fat percentage will usually want to add them to a routine. 

Isolating the obliques will make them pop as well as give definition to the abs and lower chest leading to a better aesthetic. 

How do I do a dumbbell side bend?

The most popular form of side bend is with the dumbbell. The dumbbell side bend is a simple exercise to perform and requires nothing more than a dumbbell (and a mirror if you want to keep an eye on your form).

How do I perform dumbbell side bends
  1. Select your dumbbell and pick it up with an overhand grip.
  2. Stand with the dumbbell by your side and feet slightly apart for stability.
  3. Slowly bend to the side holding the dumbbell as far as you can. This is your starting position.
  4. Breathe in, upon exhale, erect your body and bend it to the opposite side bringing the dumbbell up along your thigh.
  5. Hold this position for two seconds before slowly returning to the start position.
  6. As soon as you hit the start position, repeat the movement and carry on repeating for the required number of reps and sets.
This exercise can be performed with heavy weight but your grip will probably give up before your obliques do. If you opt to go for heavy weight and low reps, use a wrist strap so that you can focus on connecting with the obliques rather than not dropping the weight. 

How do I perform a kettlebell side bend?

Kettlebell side bends are performed in exactly the same way as a dumbbell side bend. Kettlebells are a great alternative to dumbbells as the design lends itself well to the movement. 

Kettlebells are usually more common in fitness studios than in gyms with free weights making kettlebell side bends a good option to add to your ab circuit.

How do I do kettlebell side bends

How do I do cable side bends?

Side Bends

There are a couple of ways to perform cable side bends. By attaching the pulley at a low start point you can replicate a dumbbell side bend and perform exactly the same motion. 

The advantage of using a cable on a low pulley is that you can take a step to the side of the station and target the obliques from a slightly different angle. 

The other option is to attach the pulley to a high pin on the cable station and pull down on the cable as you bend. The advantage of pulling down is that you can twist the body slightly and engage the abs to a higher extent. 

The cable machine is great for side bends. The flexibility to change your stance and adjust the weight selector makes it great for supersets and giant drop sets.

Roman chair side bends.

If you have a roman chair/hyperextension bench at your gym you can perform side bends with just your body weight. Simply stand on the bench sideways on at a 45-degree angle and bend from side to side. 

This is a great exercise to superset with ab crunches or hyperextensions as part of a core circuit. If you find bodyweight bends too easy, you can hold a weight plate to your chest or a dumbbell in your lower hand for extra resistance. 

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