Building a strong core is essential to overall fitness – but many core exercises only focus on your abs and back. Side planks can help build strength and definition all around your core by targeting your back, obliques, glutes and abs, giving your the power to take your gym performance to the next level.
In this guide you’ll learn:
- What is a side plank?
- How to do a side plank correctly
- Which muscles do side planks work?
- Common side plank mistakes
- Side plank variations
- Are side planks appropriate for beginners?
What is a side plank?
The side plank is a variation of the standard plank, which involves lying face down with legs straight out, elbows bent and touching the floor under your shoulders. Then clasp your hands together, with your feet hip-width apart, and tighten your core muscles keeping your body straight like a plank.
The side plank rotates this set up by 90 degrees, so you only have one arm and one foot in contact with the ground and your body faces the wall, not the floor.
This targets your obliques – the muscles on the sides of your core. Working one side of your body at a time helps you pinpoint any issues with particular joints and allows you to build up your weaker side.
It’s a test of balance and concentration – but once you’ve mastered the technique you can start to build up the amount of time you hold the position. The longer you can hold it, the stronger you’ll become.
How to do a side plank correctly in five easy steps
Follow these steps to perform a perfect side plank:
- Lie on the floor on your side, with the elbow that’s touching the ground directly beneath your shoulder.
- Make sure your body is in a perfectly straight line from your head to your ankles, with one leg on top of the other. Only the side of one foot should be touching the ground.
- Slowly lift the hip touching the floor off the ground. Only your forearm and the side of your foot should be touching the floor, and your torso, hip, upper leg and lower leg should all by lifted. Place your free hand on your opposite hip if is helps you to balance or lay it flat on your side.
- Hold this position for as long as you can, easing gently down to the floor when you’re done. You might find you can’t stay up for long to begin with, but the more you practice the longer you’ll be able to hold the position. If you’re already pretty fit, a good starting point is being able to hold the position for a minute and repeat this 3 times.
Which muscles do side planks work?
Side planks work a number of muscle groups, all of which contribute to your overall core strength and help protect your spine. They mainly focus on your back, ab and hip muscle.
The posterior abdominal wall – also known as the quadratus lumborum – gets a good workout. Often overlooked, it’s essential to keep these in good condition to prevent back pain as it helps stabilize your back, stopping it from bending to the side.
Side planks also work your hip muscles, specifically the gluteus medius on the side of your hip – a key part of your core. While side planks are great for your back, it’s actually those hard to reach hip muscles that are really getting a workout.
Holding your stomach flat to engage your core gives the abs a good workout. Working on your abs helps provide your core with balance and stability as well as a killer six-pack.
Side planks: What you might be doing wrong
The key to a good side plank is positioning. Make sure your body is in exactly the right position before you even attempt to lift up off the ground.
If you’re struggling to raise your hip, make sure your abs are engaged and pulled in tight, and hold them firm while you’re in a lifted position to keep your body steady. Let them go and you might find you lose balance and fall over.
It’s also really important to make sure your weight is on the side of your foot, not the sole, otherwise you body won’t be properly aligned.
Your head and neck need to be in line and straight too. Focus on a fixed point in front of you and don’t let your eyes stray from it.
As with all exercises, good technique is key to preventing strain and injuries – so take a little time to prepare before you get started.
Side plank variations
Once you’ve mastered the standard side plank – and can hold the position for some time with little effort – it’s time to shake things up so your body doesn’t plateau. Side plank variations will also improve your balance and stability. Consider these variations:
Lift your top leg and arm
From the basic side plank position, lift your top arm until it’s at a 90-degree angle to your body/ Next, lift your straight top leg off the bottom leg you’re resting on until it’s at a roughly 4-degree angle to your body. Keep your leg and arm straight with your muscles engaged and don’t let your lower hip drop.
Introduce a gym ball
Instead of resting your lower forearm on the floor, rest it on a gym ball so the angle of your body is more extreme. This engages your core muscles further as you work to retain your balance on the ball.
Add a lateral side raise
You’ll need a light dumbbell for this one. Start in the standard plank position with the dumbbell in what will be your upper hand. Lift up into the side plank position, then slowly lift your arm with your palm facing the side of your body. Keep your arm as straight as possible.
Add a lateral knee raise
From the standard side plank position, bend your top knee and lift it towards your shoulder, turning your foot 90-degrees so your sole is parallel with your lower leg. As you raise your knee, bend your top arm and bring the elbow down to meet the knee. Think of it like a standing knee raise but turning your arm and leg out to the side as you move.
Are side planks appropriate for beginners?
As long as you don’t have any health issues or injuries, you should be completely fine doing side planks.
If you feel any pain or discomfort, stop doing side planks. It may be that your back and core aren’t strong enough and you may need to start with a more rounded training regime first, to build some basic core strength.
If you aren’t feeling any discomfort but you can’t seem to hold the position for long, you can simplify the position help you strengthen your core until you feel ready to attempt a full sided plank. Just do the normal side plank position, but instead of keeping both legs straight, bend the bottom leg at the knee keeping both thighs in line. Your top leg should be straight, with the arch of the foot resting lightly on the floor.
The great thing about the side plank is that you don’t need any special equipment or an expensive gym membership – you can even do it in front of the TV.
Soon you’ll find you can hold the position for longer periods of time. Once you know how to do a side plank, you can incorporate them into your workout routine, even if you’ve only got a few minutes to spare.