The side plank is one of the easiest ways to work the two layers of muscle along the sides of your core, known as your obliques. These muscles help you rotate and bend your trunk, and they also play a role in helping to protect your spine.
Ab exercises like crunches and planks target the six-pack abdominal muscles in the front of your body. But if you’re wanting to strengthen and tone your core, it’s also important to regularly work your obliques. In fact, many professional athletes include the side plank in their training programs.
Here’s everything you need to know about the benefits of a side plank and how to perform this exercise with correct form.
Some of the key benefits of adding the side plank to your workout program include the following:
- Strengthens three muscle groups at once. To keep you stabilized in a side plank position, the muscles in your shoulders, hips, and sides of your core all have to fire and work together.
- Protects your spine. Side planks work the deep spinal stabilizing muscle
quadratus lumborum. Keeping this muscle strong can help reduce your risk of a back injury.
- Strengthens your core without stressing your back. Unlike crunches and situps, side planks don’t put pressure on your lower back. Yet, this exercise does an excellent job of boosting your core strength.
- Improves your balance. As a balancing exercise, a side plank can help improve your sense of balance and coordination.
- Reduces your risk of a back injury. A
2016 studypublished in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found that poor core endurance was linked to increased injury risk. Including planks and side planks in your training program may help reduce your risk of a back injury.
Before starting, try to find a mat or other soft surface to perform a side plank on. This can help reduce stress on your arms and feet.
- Lie on your right side with your legs straight and feet stacked on top of each other. Place your right elbow under your right shoulder with your forearm pointing away from you and your hand balled into a fist. The pinky side of your hand should be in contact with the ground.
- With your neck neutral, breathe out and brace your core.
- Lift your hips off the mat so that you’re supporting your weight on your elbow and the side of your right foot. Your body should be in a straight line from your ankles to your head.
- Hold this position for the duration of the exercise. Depending on your fitness level, aim for between 15 to 60 seconds.
- Repeat on your left side.
Some points to keep in mind during the exercise:
- If you find it hard to hold a side plank, that’s OK. You can try performing the exercise from your knees instead of your feet while you’re building your strength.
- Keep your hips stacked and facing forward. Try to avoid rotating your body.
- Avoid letting your hips sag during the exercise. If you can’t hold the position, try reducing the duration of the side plank. It’s better to perform 20 seconds with good form than 50 seconds with poor form.
- Try to keep your face and bottom hand relaxed during the exercise.
The side plank is safe for most people, but it’s best to avoid this exercise if you have shoulder, arm, or core pain. If you feel pain during the exercise, stop immediately.
Once you’ve mastered the basic side plank, there are many variations you can try to make the exercise more challenging. We’ll look at three of these below.
Besides your obliques, this side plank variation engages your shoulder muscles, the lat muscles in your upper back, and your glutes.
- Start in a traditional side plank position.
- Raise your top arm straight above you, or keep your top hand on your top hip.
- Drop your hips until they come into contact with the ground, then return to the start position.
- Repeat for 10 to 15 reps and then switch to the other side.
- If you’re a beginner, do 1 set per side to start and work up to 3 sets per side as the exercise gets easier to do.
Adding a rotation to your side plank helps engage your shoulder muscles, lat muscles, glutes, and abs, in addition to your obliques.
- Start in a traditional side plank position.
- Raise your top arm straight above you.
- Then lower your arm and rotate your core as you thread your top arm through the space under you. Stop when your shoulders are close to being parallel to the floor.
- Unthread your arm and return to the starting position.
- Repeat for 10 to 15 reps and then repeat on the other side.
- If you’re a beginner, aim for 1 set per side to start and work up to 3 sets per side as you gain strength.
An elevated side plank shifts the emphasis of this exercise more toward your shoulder. Depending on the strength ratio between your upper body and core, you may find this variation harder to do.
- Start in the same position as you would for a traditional side plank.
- Keep your neck neutral and core braced.
- Lift your hips off the mat with the palm of your supporting hand directly under your lower shoulder, with your fingers facing away from you.
- Reach your top arm up toward the ceiling.
- Hold this position for 15 to 60 seconds.
- Repeat on your other side.
While ab exercises like crunches and regular planks target the muscles in the front of your core, a side plank works your obliques, the muscles that run along the side of your core.
Keeping your obliques strong can make it easier to rotate and bend your trunk. Strong obliques can also protect your spine, improve your posture, and reduce your risk of back injuries.
If you’re new to working out, have an injury, or are unsure of how to do a side plank correctly, be sure to work with a certified personal trainer to start. As with any exercise, if you feel pain while performing a side plank, stop immediately.