Do you struggle with side plank? If so, you aren’t alone, it is like Marmite for many Pilates’ students, but the benefits of doing side plank are huge.
These include the following:
- It 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.
- It helps protect your spine. Side planks work the deep spinal stabilising muscle quadratus lumborum. Keeping this muscle strong can help reduce the risk of a back injury.
- It strengthens your core without stressing your back. Side planks don’t put pressure on your lower back.
- It improves your balance. As a balancing exercise, a side plank can help improve your sense of balance and coordination.
As mentioned above, the side plank can be really challenging and many people, particularly those who are new to Pilates, struggle with it at the beginning and have to work towards building up to a full straight leg version.
The three most common mistakes people make are as follows:
Your Torso isn’t Perpendicular to the Ground
When you set up for a side plank, you need to be super aware of your body position. Stack your shoulders one on top of the other, and keep your chest perpendicular to the ground. Maintain this position throughout the set. It is all too easy to lean forward, particularly if you place your upper hand on the ground to help balance yourself.
Your Hips Sag Down
In a traditional plank, the lower back often sags. In the side plank a similar problem is often encountered, but this time the hips are the culprit. Sagging hips indicate that your core isn’t doing its job of keeping your spine straight. Tighten your abdominal muscles and drive your hips up into the air. You should be able to draw an imaginary line straight through the centre of your body from head to toe.
Not Engaging Your Glutes and Quads Sufficiently
It’s possible to hold a Side Plank without fully engaging the lower half of the body. However, it’s not as effective as a whole body workout and your hips may well shift back out of alignment. Just as you tightened your abdominals to raise your hips, you also need to contract your glutes and quads.
How to do a Side Plank
Side Plank is a full body exercise, and you’ll work your entire body just by holding it for 10 seconds – no matter what version you are doing.
Basic Version – Bent Knees
To get started, lie down on your mat and prop yourself up on your forearm, making sure your shoulder is directly over your elbow and your forearm is pointed away from you. Your knees and ankles should be stacked one on top of the other, with your knees bent and your torso and hips perpendicular to the mat. Place your top hand on your hip and then push down on your arm and knee and drive your hips up to form a straight line with your body from head to knees. Make sure to tighten your abs, glutes and quads.
Hold for a count of 10, increasing to 30. Repeat up to 3 times. Repeat on your opposite side
As above, but instead of holding a static side plank add “dips”, dropping your hips down to hover just above the mat and then pushing them up again for 10 repetitions. Repeat up to 3 times.
Version Two – Top Leg Straight
To take it to the next level, straighten your top leg, but keep your bottom leg bent for support. Do both static and dip versions.
Version Three – Both Legs Straight
Once you feel strong in the previous position, the next step is to straighten both legs and try a full side plank. Your feet can be positioned either one in front of the other or stacked one on top of the other but you need to be resting on the side of your foot. Continue to keep your shoulder stacked right over your elbow, lifting from the underside of your body, and keeping your quads, glutes and abs engaged. Again you can go for static or dips or a combination of the two.
The side plank is safe for most people, but it’s best to avoid this exercise if you encounter any shoulder, or arm pain. If you do feel pain during the exercise, stop immediately.
Finally to increase the difficulty and challenge yourself further you can rotate your torso to thread your top arm under your bottom arm pit (Thread the Needle), raise and lower your top leg, or include a side crunch or forward crunch.
You can see how to do all these versions of side plank in this half hour side plank workout.