ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Increase Core Strength with These 5 Side Plank Variations

Increase Core Strength with These 5 Side Plank Variations

Reading Time: 4 minutes 50 seconds


Date: 2021-05-07T00:00:00-04:00

What is one area of the body that clients tend to want to transform most? Their waistline. They dream of losing their muffin top or getting rid of their spare tire. If they're already fairly lean, they want to strengthen this area in coordination with a good diet in the hopes of achieving that elusive six-pack.

The plank is one exercise that can do all of these things as it targets the midsection. And you can make this core exercise even more challenging by performing it on your side, also known as a side plank.

What Is a Side Plank?

A side plank is similar to a traditional plank in that it involves holding the body in a straight line. The only difference is that, instead of being in a prone position (facing the floor), you are on your side.

This exercise can be used in a variety of different workout programs. You will find a plank pose in yoga, for instance. This yoga pose involves keeping the arms extended, as opposed to a forearm plank. Pilates classes and strength and conditioning routines also often include some variation of a plank.

Core Muscles Worked in a Side Plank

The side plank is a great exercise for the core because it targets a lot of muscles in this region. The muscle group it uses most is the obliques.

There are two types of oblique muscles: internal obliques and external obliques. Both attach to the rib cage, the external obliques at the origin and the internal obliques at insertion. They work together during bending and twisting motions. They also provide support to the lower spine.

The other core muscle group worked in a side plank is the glutes. This includes the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius. The gluteus maximus is the muscle responsible for shaping the buttocks and assists with rotation. The gluteus medius also aids with a rotating movement while also supporting the pelvis.

Benefits of a Side Plank vs a Traditional Plank

There are times when a side plank may be preferred over a prone plank. One is if the client has low back pain, which some studies have found is on the rise, especially when that low back pain is chronic in nature.

When the body is in a prone position, this places more stress on the lower spine as it fights against gravity. Doing the plank on your side avoids this increased stress. That makes the side plank a good addition to a corrective exercise program.

Women who are pregnant may also benefit from doing a side plank instead of a traditional plank. This enables them to continue to strengthen their core without potentially injuring the abdominal region or lower back. (Clients who are pregnant should always consult with their doctor before doing any type of abdominal exercise to ensure that it is safe for the mother as well as the baby.)

5 Side Plank Variations for Improved Core Strength

There are a few ways you can modify a side plank to make it more effective at building strength. One of the simplest options is, instead of bending the elbow and resting on your forearm, keep the bottom arm extended. This is sometimes referred to as a high side plank.

Because the area supporting your body is lessened (your hand versus your forearm), your oblique muscles and glutes must work harder to keep form. This change does place more of your body weight on the wrist joint. So, this joint and its surrounding muscles must be strong enough to sustain the pressure.

Whether you decide to balance on your hand or forearm, here are a few side plank variations that are even more challenging:

  • Ball side plank. Add a stability ball to any exercise and it ramps that movement's intensity. In this plank, you rest against the ball in a side position. Bend your elbows and place your hands behind your head, forcing your core to hold you upright.

  • Side plank with lifted leg. Some people find it difficult to keep proper form in a side plank position. Once you can do this exercise with relative ease, add a leg lift. If you're planking on your right side, raise your left leg into the air and vice versa. Lift the straight leg as high as you can while keeping proper form.

  • Side plank knee-to-elbow. You can work your entire abdominal region more intensely during your side plank by taking the upper leg, bending the knee, and moving it toward the elbow on the same side of the body. (Lower your elbow during this movement to bring it closer to the knee.) This forces your core to work harder to stabilize your body during the movement.

  • Side plank semi or full rotation. This is another side plank variation that adds a bit of movement to make the exercise harder. Starting position is a side plank. From there, rotate into a traditional plank, then return to the side plank. If you want to make this move even more difficult, instead of returning to a side plank on the same side, transition into a side plank on the other side of your body.

  • Side plank dips. One benefit of this variation is that it engages more upper body muscles, namely your shoulder and lats. Instead of keeping the body in a rigid position, it involves lowering the hip closest to the floor in a slow and controlled movement before rising it back up to a straight position once again.

Reinforce Proper Plank Position to Increase Core Stability

Regardless of which variation of side plank you or your clients do, proper form is critical. This ensures that the movement works the right muscle and/or muscle group. It also protects against injury.

One of the most common mistakes people make when doing any plank is letting their hips sag. This puts the lower back at greater risk. In a side plank, the top hip should be stacked directly above the bottom hip. There should also be a straight line from the head to foot, with the spine centered right in between.

Proper side plank position also requires placing the foot on the top leg directly in front of the foot on the bottom leg. This helps better stabilize the body and supports a healthy plank position.

Additional Side Plank Considerations

Because side planks place greater amounts of force on the shoulder, elbow, and ankle joints, this exercise may not be the best choice for a client with an injury to any of these areas. In cases such as this, working with their medical team helps ensure that it is safe for them to do.

Also, these more challenging variations should not be performed until a basic level of strength has been developed and the standard side plank can be held with proper form. Start slowly with a 20-30 second hold and increase the time in smaller increments from there.

Learn additional ways to strengthen the abdominal muscles—and all of the other muscle groups—with your Strength and Conditioning Coach certification. This course teaches you how to create an effective workout that builds total-body strength and conditioning.

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