Forging a solid midsection is as much about diet and cardio as rocking out endless crunches. But when it comes to taking decisive action against love handles, most guys aren’t sure what exercise will best attack the problem. The single most popular‚ and most misused‚ exercise for your obliques is the dumbbell side bend. Once you understand how this move works, the way you’ve been doing them and the wacky technique flaws you’ll see at any gym will seem comical to you. Here are the basics to get you started.

Go Solo

You need to hold only one dumbbell. Holding two, with one in your off hand, defeats the purpose of the exercise because it provides a counterweight and takes the focus off the side you’re trying to work. So hold one dumbbell in the hand opposite the side you’re training, and concentrate on one oblique at a time.

Maintain Your Plate

Envision a thin piece of glass bisecting your body from the sides, cutting you into front and back halves. This is what’s called the frontal plane. A proper dumbbell side bend should be performed only in this plane, with no forward or backward lean at any point.

Vary the Reps

Work your dumbbell side bends using two different rep schemes: with a heavy dumbbell for a moderate number of reps (sets of 6-10), coupled with a light dumbbell for higher reps (sets of as many as 40). When choosing a dumbbell for your heavy sets, make sure it’s one that will force you to strain.

Make Progress

To make things more difficult and vary the way the exercise hits your obliques, adjust your arms. Hold your free arm at the side to start, then make things harder by placing it across your chest, then behind your head, and finally bent over your head (using the old gym class‚ side- stretch technique).