How to Do a Side Plank Properly With Correct Form

Side Plank Exercise

Target your obliques and strengthen your core with the side plank exercise! Like the standard plank, the sideways plank not only works your abdominal muscles (hello plank abs!), it’s a full-body exercise that also targets your chest, shoulders, and hips. It helps to build concentration and balance which is imperative for athletes of all levels.

Strengthening your internal and external obliques will assist with twists and bends. Your quadratus lumborum (QL) supports the lumbar spine which is especially helpful if you’re sedentary for hours at a time like sitting at a desk all day.

Side planks also provide variety in your workouts. Simple changes can target different parts of your body while improving posture and stability. Below are instructions to properly practice and align this plank position with side plank variations to either increase and decrease difficulty.

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Benefits of Side Planks

A huge benefit of the side plank position is that it targets almost the entire body.

Let’s start with the core. Your internal and external obliques are the muscles located on the sides of the abdomen running from your rib cage to your hips. They are often overlooked in your typical core exercises, such as crunches or the standard plank.

The side plank also opens the chest. Your shoulder heads rotate away from your chest while simultaneously stacking your shoulders, creating a straight line from fingertip to forearm or wrist while grounding into the floor.

Your hips rise helping to stabilize the pelvis. The engagement of these and your abdominals develop lean muscles and core strength which is necessary in essential activities like your posture. Stop the slouch!

By holding the side plank, you’re also targeting your shoulders, hips, glutes, and lower back. With 80% of Americans experiencing back pain in their lifetime, it’s never too early to start building a strong core to decrease the chance of chronic back issues.

The side plank also improves your balance, stability, and endurance. All crucial for most of your daily activities!

Target Muscles

The side plank is a core exercise that primarily strengthens the obliques, those muscles next to your abs. However, this is a full-body exercise that also trains the muscles in your hips, chest, and shoulders. As a fitness coach, it’s one of my favorite plank variations to strengthen the core muscles.

When pressing your elbow, forearm and hand into the floor, you’re engaging your shoulder stabilizers and lateral deltoid, the muscle covering your shoulder head. 

When lifting your hips (or one leg in some side plank variations), you’re engaging your vastus medialis and vastus lateralis, the inner and outer muscles of your quads.

Quick notes: your core muscles are more just than your abs, these muscles include the gluteus medius, and gluteus maximus, the hips, abdominals and back muscles. 

Primary Muscles: 

  • Transversus abdominis muscles
  • External and internal obliques (side abs)
  • Gluteus medius
  • Gluteus minimus muscles (abductors)
  • Adductor muscles of the hip

Secondary Muscles: 

  • Gluteus maximus (glutes)
  • Quadriceps (quads) 
  • Hamstrings.

How to Do a Side Plank

Side plank position 2

To get into the side plank position, start by lying on your side, stacking your elbow directly underneath your shoulder on the floor. This is the starting position. 

Side plank position 1

Have your forearm parallel to the front of your mat or to the wall in front of you. Spread your fingers wide on the floor to create a stable base to hold your bodyweight. Pivot to the outer edge of your foot as you square your hips, forming a straight line from your neck to your toes. Lift your body on an exhale as you engage your core for stability. 

How Long Should You Hold the Side Plank?

30 seconds to start. Lower to the floor and switch. Add time with practice. While side planks aren’t bad for you, holding for extended periods of time isn’t recommended.

How Long Should You Hold the Side Plank?

30 seconds to start on the planks side. Lower to the floor and switch. Add time with practice. While side planks aren’t bad for you, holding for extended periods of time isn’t recommended.

Common Mistakes

To avoid possible injury and to achieve the best results in the side plank, pay very close attention to your form. Note that if you have prior elbow, shoulder, or wrist issues, take care to protect your joints in the side plank. 

Keep your head up! To avoid a neck sprain, keep a straight line from the tip of your head to feet. 

Keep your shoulders stacked. Press the floor away with either your forearm or hand to maintain the integrity of your shoulder joint. 

Keep your hips aligned and your glutes engaged. Squeeze your glutes to support your obliques and engage your core.

Make It Easier

Seems daunting? Try the kneeling side plank variation. 

Kneeling Side Plank

Lie in the starting position with your knees bent, top leg stacked on the other. Position your elbow directly under your shoulder, with forearm pressed into the floor. On an exhale, lift your hips and thighs off the floor. Press through your forearm and shins for stability. 

Advance Your Side Planks

Not feeling challenged with the standard side plank? Add some spice with these side plank variations.

Kneeling Side Plank With Leg Lift

While on the floor holding the basic starting position on your side, lift and hold your top leg for as long as you can or 30 seconds without breaking your form. This will seriously work the abductors of the hip and challenge your balance. Repeat on other side.

Another option: Instead of resting on your forearm, support your body with your palm on the floor, directly under the shoulder without locking out the elbow in this modified side plank position. Lift one leg. 

Side Plank Thread-Through 

Start in the side plank starting position with your top arm reaching toward the ceiling. Thread your top arm through the space between the floor and your torso while rotating your shoulders and hips parallel to the ground. Release by unwinding and reaching your top arm back up towards the sky. Complete three sets of eight to twelve reps per side. Bonus: this can also get your heart rate up!

Final Word

There are many side plank variations that work your entire body and target your abdominal muscles as long as you keep form by pressing into the floor and focusing on proper alignment. 

The side plank may be slightly harder than regular planks but the benefits are worth the work!

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