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How to Do a Side Plank: Techniques, Benefits, Variations

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Target: Arms, back, core

Level: Intermediary

The side plank is a great exercise to strengthen the oblique abs, which aren’t as active in ab exercises like sit-ups. You will hold your body lying on your side in a straight position supported only by one arm and one foot.

Strong obliques can be quite useful as core stabilizers. Beginners must build the necessary strength and balance with warmups for the skewers and modified sideboards before moving on to the sideboard. You can add sideboards to your core exercise routine, do Pilates or yoga.

Benefit

The main muscles used are the obliques, along with the glutes and glutes maximal to stabilize the hip. Your shoulder stabilizer also helps you stay aligned.

This exercise doesn’t put pressure on your lower back or neck like many other core exercises. During pregnancy, the lateral plank is preferred because it puts less strain on the central abs. This is a balance exercise and you will build your balance and coordination. This exercise can help you maintain good posture and ease of movement by building a stronger core and better balance.

Step by step instructions

  1. Lie on your right side, legs extended and stacked from hips to feet. The elbow should be placed directly below the shoulder. Make sure your head is in line with your spine. Your left arm can be aligned along the left side of your body.
  2. Engage your abdominal muscles, pulling your navel toward your spine.
  3. Lift your hips and knees off the mat while exhaling. Your torso is aligned, without sagging or curving. Hold position.
  4. After a few breaths, inhale and return to the starting position. The goal is to hold for 60 seconds. Switch sides and repeat.

Strengthen your hips with side skates

Common mistake

To get the most out of this exercise, avoid these mistakes.

Sagging hips

If you haven’t built enough strength, you’ll find your hips sag and you won’t be able to maintain a straight line.

Roll forward

Without enough strength and balance, you may not be able to hold your position and you will find yourself rolling forward and unable to keep your hips and legs stacked.

Hold for too long

At first, you may only be able to hold the board for a few seconds. As soon as you begin to sag or roll forward or backward, it’s time to finish the plank before you have a strain injury. Track your form and finish as soon as you start to get tired.

Modifications and Variations

You can take side games in a variety of ways to make them more accessible or to provide more of a challenge as you progress.

Need a modification?

Slowly release the side plank before you’re fully loaded to help you avoid joint and/or muscle strain. This is done with startup and modification.

Start with warmups before you do a side plank.

Warm up your oblique abs with a little side bend.

  1. To start, lie on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat. Do a few straight on curls just to get started.
  2. When you’re ready, do small curls to the side, moving up and down slowly for the most enhanced benefit.
  3. Do at least five for each side.

Drop knees, side roll.
Image Russell Sadur / Getty

Before you add a challenge to the incline, spend some time lying on your back, knees bent and feet flat. Gently drop or roll both knees to one side and then the other a few times.

If you want to turn this move into an oblique challenge, as you pull your leg back to the starting position (foot flat on the floor), do so only from your hipbone and let your leg swing like dead weight. The key to doing this move is to not let your legs help and keep your abs working.


Woman doing exercises on a mermaid’s Pilates mat.
Angela Coppola / Getty Images

Now, turn the warm-up into a small challenge by sitting on one side, legs folded behind. Help support your body weight by extending your arm on the same side as the hip you’re sitting on and placing it on the floor. Keep your hips on the floor, leaning on your hands. This will give your obliques some isometric activity. Hold for about 20 to 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

Photo Austrophoto Austrophoto / Getty

If you can’t hold the side plank, the corrective side plank is a perfectly good place to develop your oblique strength.

  1. From a seated position, lower yourself slightly so that your weight is supported on your hips and thighs closest to the floor. This leg should be slightly bent to help with safe and accurate positioning. Your weight should also be supported on the forearm on the same side.
  2. Try to stay in good shape and alignment by keeping your upper hips and shoulders just above the lower body. Use your abs. Your upper arm can rest by your side or you can rest your hands on your hips.
  3. Spend up to 1 minute in this position and then switch sides. Try to stay in good shape while you’re in the pose and try to add 1-2 seconds each time you do it.
Glow Wellness / Getty Images

If you choose to continue with rehab, you can develop muscle balance and stretch the muscles in your ribs a little more by placing a fit ball or BOSU ball under your ribs.

The ball will challenge your body’s overall alignment and balance. Your job is to maintain your upper hips and shoulders directly above your lower body. If you find yourself having a hard time doing this move, extend your kickstand by placing your highest foot in front of the other on the floor.

Want to join a challenge?

There are many ways to progress your side plank once you’ve mastered form and are steady in holding it.

The simplest way to increase the difficulty is to raise your upper arm.


Side plank.
Image Westend61 / Getty

In yoga, the side plank (Vasisthasana) is taught with the supporting arm straight. It is also taught this way as a Pilates exercise. This puts more strain on the wrist while working extra muscles in the forearm. You can enter the straight arm variation from Plank Pose (Phalakasana).

Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

For the queen of all challenges, lift your highest leg. You can do this move from a forearm support position or a straight arm support position. You’ll work your inner thighs to lift your upper leg, but not any higher than parallel to the ground. Another variation is to raise the lower leg off the floor, maintaining contact with the foot of the upper leg and only your elbow or hand.

Deborah M. Kennedy

Safety and Precautions

You should avoid side planks if you have a shoulder, arm, elbow, or ankle injury. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about whether it’s appropriate if you have any other injuries or conditions. Please stop if you feel pain at any time.

Trial

Incorporate this and similar moves into one of these popular exercises:

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