Want a flat stomach? Look at your obliques

So, you've got a pot belly huh?  Perhaps you've improved your diet and exercise and strengthened your core and all of that stuff but yet you STILL have a pot belly.  It could be your obliques.

Aren’t the obliques those muscles that sit on the SIDE of my body?  Aren’t they the muscles that we use to twist and side bend?

Yes.  That is correct.

But when you use the right obliques AND the left obliques in a bilateral contraction they bend your torso forwards (ribs to hips) and if your torso is fixed they can also bring your hips closer to your ribs and straighten up an anterior pelvic tilt which flattens out the pot, poochy belly created by the tilt.

Many of us are too busy doing weighted side bends, torso twists, crossover crunches and the like and have forgotten to include bilateral oblique training to ensure the integrity of our pelvic positioning.  For those who don’t know, bilteratal means both sides at the same time, unilateral is when we work one side, like in the case of a swiss ball side crunch or a medicine ball twist.


Here is a wee picture.  The External obliques, when used bilaterally bend the ribs towards the pelvis, in other words, good ol’ bending over.  The rectus abdominis does this also (AKA the 6 pack), and this tends to be what we overuse without using the obliques also, sometimes we don’t use any of them, we just let gravity bend us forwards

The origin of the external obliques is on the ribs, and it’s insertion is at the hip, the origin of the internal obliques is at the hip and the insertion is at the ribs, so we can see that there is a connection between the position of the ribs in relation to the pelvis which can be influenced by the obliques.  Taming the posture is not just all about “core activation” and doing a bunch of sit ups.  Taming the obliques is not just about doing side crunches and twists.

So let’s look at this pot belly then.  When we have an anterior pelvic tilt (AKA Donald duck posture), the PSIS (which is the bony peak at the back of the hips) sits higher than the ASIS (the bony bit in the front of hip).  By the way, before any exercise physiology student or PT starts ranting at me about terminology...this article hasn’t actually been written for you guys ok.

Ok, so when the PSIS is higher than the ASIS the hips tilt forwards, it’s like having a bucket of water and you tilt the bucket to spill water out the front of it.  The effect of this type of posture is as shown, a drooping belly, a major curve in the lower back and a butt that sticks out.

So, we’re told things like, strengthen your core, stretch your hipflexors, tuck your tailbone under, pull your belly in, stand up straight...blah blah blah.  Yes we need to do these things – but if we don’t address possible oblique weakness (whether it be one side or both) then we are missing a key muscle group that actually helps to maintain a neutral pelvic position.

So, how do we flatten our belly in this type of case?  This is how I like to sequence the training. 

  1. Learn how to activate your pelvic floor without using the abdominals or glutes
  2. Find the connection between the pelvic floor and the deep transverse abdominis without tilting the pelvis – in other words, keep a neutral spine and pelvis
  3. Activate the transverse abdominis without bracing (pushing)
  4. Learn how to activate the glutes without tilting the pelvis – maintain a neutral spine
  5. Learn how to pelvic tilt WITHOUT using the glutes
  6. Feel how the middle of the abs (rectus) AND the outside of the abs (obliques) contracts in this pelvic tilt
  7. Begin to distinguish the difference in a rectus activation vs an oblique activation
  8. Practice lots.
  9. And moving on from there, start to learn how the entire muscle group works together to keep a straight posture in a standing position and keep practicing.  Once normal tone is achieved in the obliques the training can back off to a maintenance level.  We need to be careful not to over train this as we can then end up with a posterior pelvic tilt and flat back posture.

Changing your posture can take a visual 5-10kg off your body without any body fat reduction methods.  In my experience, it is the forward bending action obliques that may be the missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to changing this tilted posture and reducing all the health concerns that accompany it including tilts in the uterus, constipation (from poor colon position in the abdomen), menstrual issues, lower back pain, pot belly, hip immobility etc. 

I suggest pilates as a way of helping you with this, or finding a personal trainer with this knowledge.

And P.S – this posture we are talking about today is NOT a sway back.  This is very much a pelvic tilt with possible lumbar lordosis. You MAY also have a sway with it, but the curve itself is not the “sway”.