When you think about core training and exercises, you probably think about the front of your body. You should also be thinking about spinal mobility and especially lateral flexion.
Why you need lateral flexion in your core training
During everyday activities, such as walking, the body displays natural lateral flexion, with one side compressing while the other lengthens. This often subconscious movement is integral to maintaining balance and fluidity in our motion.
Incorporating lateral flexion into your core training improves your trunk strength which, apart from physical activities, also helps to redistribute weight and maintain our center of gravity, preventing falls and enhancing stability.
Because of this, lateral flexion is something we put a ton of emphasis on in our Core & Breathing program.
Anatomy of lateral flexion
Here’s a quick overview of the main muscles involved in the lateral flexion of the spine. You don’t need to be a walking encyclopedia of anatomy, but knowing the basics will help when planning your core training programs.
The internal and external obliques sit on the sides of the abdomen. Acting much like the guy ropes of a tent, they provide stability and control to the torso while it twists, turns, and bends.
During lateral flexion, the obliques on the compressing side contract pulling the ribcage and the hip closer together.
The intercostal muscles, located between the ribs, are mainly involved in the mechanical aspect of breathing by expanding (external intercostal muscles) and compressing (internal intercostal muscles) the size of the chest cavity.
The QL is two muscles located deep in the lower back on either side of the spine. When one of the muscles contracts, it causes lateral flexion of the spine.
All these muscles not only need to be strong to facilitate movement, but they also need to be flexible enough to extend and contract effectively.
This dual requirement of strength and flexibility underscores the importance of including lateral flexion exercises in your core training program.
How To Incorporate Lateral Flexion Into Your Core Training
This is the progression we use in the Core & Breathing program to improve both your lateral flexion and strength.
1. Dumbbell Side Bend with Hip Shift For Lateral Flexion
You’ve probably seen bodybuilders work on these. The dumbbell side bend often faces unfair criticism, with trainers often preferring to do suitcase carries for lateral core training. But as great as suitcase carries are, they are not what we would choose to improve lateral spinal mobility.
When performed with the correct form, side bends are a powerful tool to tackle both strength and flexibility in your core training.
Key coaching cues:
- Emphasise lateral hip shift to the opposite side.
- Minimize any backward or forward movement. Think you’re doing these in a phone booth.
2. Side Bend on Bench For Lateral Flexion
We find this exercise particularly helpful for those who struggle to engage their obliques for lateral flexion.
Key coaching cues:
- Inhale on the way down and feel the side closer to the ground lengthen with the breath.
- Exhale on the way up, getting yourself as high as possible, feeling your obliques pull you away from the ground.
- Push through the inside of the hand on the way up
3. Hanging Side Bend For Lateral Flexion
The hanging side bend needs a solid foundation of overhead mobility and incorporates grip strength. We would stick to the first two exercises if you are having trouble getting overhead.
Key coaching cues for Hanging Side Bend
- Exhale on the way up. Think about bringing your hip to the shoulder.
- Pull down with the hand on the side where the legs are moving while pushing into the bar with the opposite hand.
- Move the feet from side to side, avoiding any front or back movement.
- Keep the rib cage down.
4. Half-Kneeling Side Bend For Lateral Flexion
To protect the lower back, check that you have the required range of motion first before incorporating these in your core training. This side bend incorporates a core balance and really demonstrates the idea of contraction and explanations for your lateral sides.
Key coaching cues for Half-Kneeling Side Bend
- Try to get as much of the forefoot touching a wall as possible, and keep the front foot on the ground to ensure you’re moving through the hips.
- Push the plate up and inhale as you laterally bend towards the front leg side.
- Keep pushing the plate up and exhale, bending towards the down knee side.
Strength and Mobility: Two Sides of the Core Training Coin
Core training is more than just developing abs; it’s about the interplay between strength and mobility. While strength training builds strength (duh), muscle mass, and power, mobility exercises enhance the range of motion, flexibility, and movement efficiency.
Incorporating the lateral flexion exercises we listed above can significantly improve the balance between strength and mobility. Further expanding your body’s movement repertoire.
What’s next? Introducing our Core Breathing Program
The Core Breathing Program improves your core strength, mobility, and cardio in less than 15 minutes a day, 3 or 4 days a week. We’ve designed it so it complements and supplements your existing training, allowing you to get more out of what you’re already doing.
The program uses the exact same systemized progressions we use to get results with our clients. And the schedule and progressions are conveniently laid out for you in our app.
You’ll also get access to our private community for support. So you’ll never have to guess how to get the most out of your core training.