Exercises don’t need to look impressive to be effective. Find out how to do side bends, what their benefits are, and their potential downsides.
Side bends are an exercise where you stand up straight and tilt your upper sideways and back.
To make the movement challenging enough, you likely need to hold some form of resistance like a dumbbell, resistance band, or kettlebell.
Side bends can be great for growing and strengthening your oblique muscles if your body can deal with them.
One potential downside is that some people will find the side bend too uncomfortable on their spines. In that case, it can be smart to start with a static oblique exercise like side planks.
How to do a side bend
Take the following steps to do a side bend:
- Stand up straight and hold your arms by your sides.
- Slowly tilt your upper body as far as comfortable to one side. Keep your neck in one line with your upper body.
- Return your upper body to the upright position.
- Complete your set on one side and do the same number of repetitions on your other side.
The two main things to keep in mind when doing side bends are keeping your neck in line with your torso and not bending too far.
Muscles worked with side bends
Side bends mainly work the oblique muscles in your sides.
Additionally, your abs and erector spinae may have to work to a certain extent to keep your upper body straight.
If you actually want to grow and strengthen your oblique muscles, you will likely have to make side bends harder in one way or another.
You can try stretching the arm of the opposite side but you will likely need to hold some form of resistance.
This can be actual fitness equipment options like a dumbbell, resistance bands, or cable handle but also something like a grocery bag.
Side bend benefits
Side bends will not help you with all your fitness goals but this exercise does still offer a few nice benefits. A few examples include:
- Stronger muscles: By approaching side bends in a smart way you can grow and strengthen your oblique muscles.
- Helps you avoid muscle asymmetries: Side bends work the oblique muscles of one side at a time. This can make it easier to work each side equally and avoid muscle imbalances.
- May reduce or prevent back pain: The extra oblique strength you can get from side bends tends to be helpful for reducing and preventing back pain (1, 2). You do want to be careful with side bends if you already have this issue and potentially talk to an expert first.
If these benefits align with your training goals, you can definitely consider implementing side bends in your exercise routine.
Side bend alternatives
Another option if you like the benefits above is choosing one of the side bend alternatives available.
You could like these more than side bends in terms of what muscles they work, in what ways they work these, or simply enjoy them more.
- Sideways hanging knee raises
- Bicycle crunches
- Side planks
- Ab wheel V roll-outs
What you are looking for in side bend alternatives and what equipment options you have available will influence your choices a lot.
Are side bends a good exercise?
Side bends can be a good exercise for growing and strengthening the oblique muscles responsible for tilting your upper body sideways.
Keep in mind that you may need to use extra weights to make the exercise challenging enough for muscle growth and strength progress.
Another thing to note is that some people will find the spine bending in side bends too uncomfortable.
If you are in this category, you may prefer to start with isometric (static) exercise alternatives like side planks that work similar muscles
Do side bends actually work?
Side bends actually work in the sense that doing them with enough resistance and repetitions can grow and strengthen your oblique muscles.
Do side bends give you abs?
Side bends will typically not give you bigger abs. The small amount of muscle engagement in this area is typically not enough to see growth results.
How many side bends should I do a day?
For something like muscle growth, you would do 3 to 6 sets of 6 to 25 side bends (on each side) with enough resistance a day.
Are side bends good or bad?
Side bends can be good or bad depending on who does them. Some people will find this exercise too uncomfortable due to the spine bending. If you don’t have an issue with this, side bends can be good for growing and strengthening oblique muscles.