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The intercostal muscles lie between the ribs and the sides of your torso.
The muscles that help you breathe also give you that coveted chiseled chest when you work them in regular core-specific workouts. The core muscles, including the internal and external intercostal muscles that lie along the upper obliques, support and stabilize your midsection and help you perform everyday tasks, such as bending, walking and twisting. So even if being Mr. Universe isn't your goal, building strong intercostal muscles has its own rewards, such as improved posture and breathing.
Add a Twist
This exercise is literally a situp with a twist. Lie on the floor with knees bent. Lace your fingers behind your head, with elbows to your sides away from your ears. Curl up. As your back lifts from the floor, twist your torso to one side and hold for 10 seconds. Ease to the floor and repeat with a twist to the opposite side. Aim for 10 reps on each side for one set. Rest for no more than 10 seconds in between sets. Do three sets at the end of your regular core workout two to three times a week.
Try the Gate Pose
Stretching the intercostal muscles regularly before your workouts can help prevent injury. This intense side stretch opens the rib cage. Come into a kneeling position on the floor. If you're on a hard surface, kneel on a folded blanket to protect your knees. Extend your right leg out to your right side, heel touching the floor and toes pointed away from you. Press through your foot so it is as flat to the floor as possible without pain. Keep the right leg straight as you stretch both arms out to your sides. Swing your left arm overhead so it arches over the left ear. Slide your right hand down your right thigh as far as it will go without pain. Hold the position for at least 30 seconds and breathe deeply, feeling the intercostal muscles expand. Repeat on the opposite side to complete one set. Make this a part of your stretching routine.
Add Saxon Side Bends
The Saxon side bend is the little darling of core-training junkies. Grab a dumbbell for each hand. Start off with light dumbbells until you perfect your form through the entire range of motion. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, arms by your sides, with knees bent slightly. Feet should point forward. Abduct your arms with control to bring them overhead. Bring the dumbbells close together. Keep your arms straight and palms facing forward. With arms overhead, bend from the waist to one side without allowing your back to round or chest to cave. This is harder than you think. Move with control and intention to reap the most benefit from this subtle move. Hold the side bend for 30 seconds, come to center, and repeat on the opposite side for one set. Perform six to eight reps on each side. Add this move to the end of your workouts twice a week.
Remember to Rest
Overworking the intercostal muscles can lead to injury or strain. Ensure you allow enough recovery time between core workouts that include work for the intercostal muscles. The website Human Kinetics advises you to allow a day of rest in between workouts. Muscles grow during the rest phase, so it is as important as the exercise itself. The website also recommends performing three core workouts per week. If you're new to exercise, start with two workouts weekly and build up to three. After working out regularly for three months, do four workouts per week.