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If you’re looking to sculpt some killer abs and increase your core strength, you might first turn to crunches. Hey, it’s a habit. Instead, roll out your yoga mat and try these standing yoga poses to sculpt, tone, and strengthen your side abs—and improve your overall yoga practice. Not only will you see a difference in your body, but more importantly, building those obliques will make you feel stronger, more balanced, and have better mobility.
How yoga works your obliques and side abs
If you’re thinking that Side Plank Pose is the only way to work your side abs, think again. As much as I love this pose (and consider it an all-time oblique-strengthening favorite), there are tons of other poses that effectively work your side abs.
Tiffany Cruikshank, the founder of Yoga Medicine, says poses that engage your rib cage are beneficial to your obliques and side abs. This means that many yoga poses, including some standing twisting postures, can be great options for working your obliques. “This hovering action and rotational motion of the ribs is what helps target the obliques,” she says. And those small movements and rotations? They can lead to big changes in the strength of your side abs and obliques.
We asked Cruikshank for some of her favorite poses to work those obliques. Read on to discover her favorites (and some may even surprise you).
4 yoga poses to strengthen your side abs
Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose)
Requiring balance, strength, and focus, this pose will tone your side abs—while also improving your stability. If the full posture of this pose is difficult for you, you can opt to modify it by placing a block under your grounded hand. Cruikshank says this pose doesn’t necessarily feel like core work—even though it is. “The key for [this pose] is to focus on moving the skin of your top ribs back in order to turn your ribcage toward the long edge of your mat,” she says. This rotation of your ribs is what strengthens your side abs and obliques.
Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle)
Like Half Moon Pose, Extended Side Angle enables you to engage your rib cage in a way that targets those side abs and obliques. If you find core work a bit boring, Cruikshank says this is the pose to turn to. By opening your chest up, engaging your lower body, and extending through your upper arm, you’ll feel every inch of your physical body activated—including your obliques. To make this pose more challenging, you can also opt to take a half or a full bind with the top arm.
Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose)
A tried-and-true for oblique work, Side Plank Pose is a great option for strengthening your side abs—no oblique crunches needed. If balancing in Side Plank Pose is challenging for you, opt to bring your top foot down as a “kickstand” to your bottom leg. Want to target those side abs even more? Bring your supporting arm down to to your forearm—instead of lifting through the fully extended arm. Your obliques will be on fire in no time.
Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose)
This pose engages your ribs in a similar way to Extended Side Angle Pose and Half Moon Pose, Cruikshank says. While in this pose, try making the same adjustments Cruikshank recommended for Half Moon Pose—moving the skin of your top ribs back, in order to create space and rotation throughout your ribcage. This movement will allow you to fully engage your obliques. “To ramp this [pose] up simply get lighter and lighter on the lower supportive arm or you can even take the arms overhead for an additional challenge,” Cruikshank says.