Use Your Obliques

Okay, so you know that six-packs are bullshit, and you’ve started learning to use your deep abdominals. Awesome! And just like in roller derby, where you build on basic moves and grow as a skater, you do the same thing with yoga. You learn how to access one muscle, and then start working with it along with another. Or you learn how to do a basic pose, and then build on it in various ways.

I mean, you didn’t think your core was only one muscle, right?

External Obliques

Enter: your obliques. They’re the abdominal muscles located on the sides that allow you to rotate your torso and do side bends. They also are a part of the team that helps stabilize you for a lot of actions that you do on the track: think actions like juking, or other times when you’re shifting your weight side-to-side. Which, really, is quite a lot of the game!

When you combine the strength of your deeper abdominal muscles at the front of your pelvis, and your obliques at your sides, you’re starting to create a deep bench at your core. That translates to more stability as you move–and getting knocked down less means you stay in the game–as well as less low back pain. I know the saying is “no pain, no gain”, but I think we can all agree that low back pain isn’t helping you skate better.

Ready to use your obliques? Try this!


Moving Supine Twist

Lie on your back, and bring your thighs parallel to the floor. You can have your knees bent or legs extended; try it out with your knees bent first to make sure you’ve got the form down. Make sure that your legs are parallel to the floor and aren’t inching close to your torso!

Reach your arms out into a T-shape, with palms pressing down onto the floor.

Inhale fully. Hold your breath and draw your belly button in toward your spine. As you exhale, begin to lower your legs toward your right. They don’t need to come anywhere near the floor! Keep your hands and arms connected to the floor to the best of your ability–your left shoulder will probably lift up, and that’s a-okay!–and hold for a breath.


Inhale to lift back to center, hold your breath and draw your belly button toward your spine, and exhale to lower your legs to your left.


Repeat 3-5 times on each side–or maybe more! Form is key to feel the correct actions in this one, so stay focused on that rather than how close you can get your legs to the floor.

Three important things to watch:

  1. Be sure that your legs stay parallel to the floor! If you let them come closer to your torso, you won’t feel the action nearly as well.
  2. Watch what you’re doing with your head. If you’re trying to lower your legs too far, you might start using your head and neck to stabilize you, rather than your abs. You don’t want to end up with wacky neck issues while you’re trying to help your low back.
  3. If you’re working with legs extended, press out through the balls of your feet as you move. Get those sweet, strong derby legs involved in the process!

How are your obliques feeling now?


— Anatomical image by Stephanie Cost.

How to Strengthen Your Core

Six-packs are bullshit. That’s what I tell people in many of my core-focused classes, and I want the rest of you to hear it, too. The best way to strengthen your core probably doesn’t involve most of the motions that you’ve been taught to get rock hard abs.

When you overly strengthen rectus abdominis–the six-pack muscles–you’re not really helping your stability or your low back problems. What you are doing is:

  • preventing yourself from breathing fully, which is pretty important for a cardio-heavy sport like roller derby;
  • doing wacky things to your posture and possibly making your low back pain worse;
  • compressing your internal organs, so they might not do their jobs as well as they should; and
  • creating a muscle that limits your range of motion, the same way that your it feels like your hip flexors or hamstrings do!

Got it? Six-packs are bullshit. So what should you be doing instead of focusing on some ridiculous ideal that isn’t actually going to help your game? Try this!

Abs with a Block

You’ll need a yoga block, a thick book, or a rolled up towel. (To roll the towel, fold it in thirds lengthwise, and then roll up from one of the short ends. Secure it with a rubber band if you’d like.)

Lie on your back with the soles of your feet on the floor, place the block/book/towel in between your thighs, as close to your pelvis as you can get it. Seriously, don’t be afraid to get it right up in there against your pubic bone.

Bring your hands behind your head and interlace your fingers, like you’re getting ready to do a crunch. Don’t lift your head and hands off the floor yet, though! In fact, let your head rest in your hands so that your neck muscles are relaxed.

Flat Mat - Abs with a Block Prep

Inhale fully–without lifting your head and arms! Hold your breath and squeeze your block/towel. Press your mid and low back firmly agains the floor.

Exhale and lift both shoulder blades up off the floor. Pull your low belly–the spot right below your belly button–down.

Flat Mat: Abs with a Block

Inhale to lower halfway down, and repeat 5-10 times.

As you get stronger, you can work this with your knees bent and shins parallel to the floor. Make sure you can keep your lower back pressed against the floor even if you’re lifting your legs!

Flat Mat: Abs with a Block Right Angle

Or you might get a little more ambitious and do this with legs straight. Reach the balls of your feet toward the ceiling!

Flat Mat: Abs with a Block Legs Up

Note: if you’ve got a grouchy low back, stick to doing this with your feet on the floor. You could also try pressing your feet against a wall.

Flat Mat: Abs with a Block at Wall

No matter which one you choose, the steps are:

  1. Inhale.
  2. Hold your breath and: squeeze your block/book/towel, press lower back toward floor.
  3. Exhale and lift shoulder blades off the floor (if you can), pull low belly down.

As you start using your deep abdominals and inner thighs, you’ll find that your stability on the track will improve!

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