The internal and external obliques, which I like to call "nature's girdle," are located at the sides of the rectus abdominis. They are the muscles you use when you bend sideways at the spine or twist at the waist. They also contract to compress the abdomen, so you should work them just as hard as you work the rectus abdominis. Adding a twist to crunches works, as well as dumbbell side bends, but be careful not to use any jerky motions, especially if you've had back problems.
When you exercise on the rowing machine, try this interval workout: Row for 60 seconds, note the distance on the machine, then rest 60 seconds. Repeat, only this time, row for 55 seconds and try to match or better your distance from the first time. Rest 55 seconds, then repeat, reducing the time to 50 seconds. Continue until you can’t beat your original distance.
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