Exercise of the Week: Side Plank

Like the front plank, the side plank is a full-body strengthening exercise that requires no fitness equipment — it’s just you and your bodyweight. You can do a plank anytime, anywhere. It is an isometric exercise that requires steady breathing, focus, and determination.

I recommend planks to all my clients and friends because they are one of the best ways to balance and strengthen many of those deep muscles that support your spine, hip-complex, and shoulders.

How To:

  1. Lie face down on your mat, in a prone position, with your stomach resting on the ground.
  2. Roll to one of your sides. Place your elbow directly below your shoulder with your forearm resting on the floor perpendicular to your body, your elbow at a 90-degree angle. Keep your hips and feet stacked on top of each other so that you are balancing along the side of your body. Your spine and legs should be in a straight line.
  3. Squeeze your glutes and tighten your abdominal muscles to lift your body off of the ground so the only parts touching the floor are the outside of your bottom foot, your elbow, and your forearm/hand.
  4. Make sure your elbow is still directly below your shoulder and that you remain in a straight line with your hips and feet stacked. Your gaze should be straight ahead and slightly down to help keep your neck relaxed.
  5. If you cannot keep your balance in this position, you can use your free hand to help keep yourself steady.
  6. Hold for the duration of the exercise and then switch sides.

Main Muscles Targeted:

Modification:

  • If you need to decrease the difficultly level, drop your bottom knee to the floor bending that leg to a 90-degree angle. Keep your elbow lined up with your shoulder. Your weight will now be placed on your elbow, your forearm/hand, your knee, and the inside of your top foot.

Variation:

  • If you want to increase the difficultly level, you can raise your free arm up toward the ceiling. You will shift your gaze toward your raised hand which will help keep you aligned.
  • You can also add this variation to the modification above if you find the modification is too easy, but the regular side plank is too difficult.

Quick Tips:

  • Do this exercise in front of a mirror or with a partner so you can watch your form. It’s easy to “cheat” when you get tired without even realizing it.
  • Breathe in for a count of five and out for a count of five. Even breaths will help make your mind calm and allow muscles that should not be clenched to relax.
  • Keep your glutes clenched and your belly button pulled in tight toward your spine. This will help you keep your form and stay in the plank longer.
  • Keep breathing!!

 

 

 

 

*Remember, it’s always advised to consult with your doctor or health care expert before adding a new exercise to your routine to make sure you don’t have any contraindications.

Comments

  1. Thanks, Barb and Ben!

    Planks are an isometric exercise. Therefore, when you are training your muscles to increase their “holding” abilities, the ultimate duration in an advanced setting is: as long as you can hold the position with correct form and even breathing.

    So Ben, if you can hold your front plank for 30 seconds and are looking to advance your abilities, your next goal would be at least 31-35 seconds. Then the time after that, your goal again would be at least 1- 5 seconds past your best time. Side planking strength is generally less than front planking strength, but the 1-5 second goal increase would be the same for both.

    The longest I’ve seen a client hold a good looking front plank is 8-9 minutes. I also looked it up in the Guinness Book of World Records and the current record holder is Mao Weidong of China with a 4-hour 26-minute front plank. Yikes!

    Of course actual available workout time and your own personal interest in the maximal duration of your planking abilities will limit how much time you commit to these exercises. My opinion is that consistency of training trumps duration of training if choosing between the two.

    Like

  2. Thanks, Caroline, for a great post! I like the planks, too, and do them as part of a daily 7-Minute Workout. In that context the “duration of the exercise” is 30 seconds for plank and 15 seconds per side for side planks. I wonder what range of specific time intervals would be recommended by fitness professionals as “the duration of the exercise” in more extensive workout regimens?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Just started working on the side plank at Pilates. Great to get your illustrations and descriptions.

    Liked by 1 person

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