How to Safely Progress Your Side Plank Exercise


Why It's Good for Your Back

Man doing side plank pose (Vasisthasana)
Side plank for oblique abdominal strength. Mike Powell / Getty Images

The side plank is a great exercise, position or pose (this depends on the type of movement system you enjoy, but in any instance, it's pretty much the same) for strengthening oblique abdominal muscles. Strong obliques can be quite useful as core stabilization muscles.Not only that, but the side plank, according to at least one M.D. researcher, may actually play a key role in reversing adult scoliosis.

Easing into your side plank gradually before fully loading it with your body weight will likely help you avoid joint and/or muscle strain. This is done with warm-ups and modifications. Then, the same sequence can serve as a map to progressing yourself over time.

This slideshow takes you through it, so slide on.


Warm Up Your Oblique Abdominal Muscles

Mature woman exercising on gymnastics mat in gym
Stephanie Deissner / Getty Images

Warm up your oblique abdominals with little curl-ups that go to the side.  

To begin, lie down on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat.  Perform a few straight on curl-ups just to get going. When you're ready, do the little curls over to one side, moving up and down slowly to get the most strengthening benefits. 

Do at least 5 on each side.


Loosen Up Your Obliques With Side Rolling

Knee drop, side roll
Knee drop, side roll. Russell Sadur / Getty Images

Before you add challenge to your obliques, spend a few moments on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat. Gently drop or roll both knees to one side and then the other a few times.

Add an Ab Challenge

If you'd like to turn this move into an oblique challenge, when you pull your legs back to the start position (feet flat on ​the floor) do so from your hip bone only and let your legs dangle like dead weight.The key to making this work is to not "cheat." The minute you allow your legs to help you, the ab challenge will likely be gone. So remain vigilant as you bring your legs back up.


Graduate Your Oblique Ab Warm Up Into an Easy Challenge

Woman practising mermaid Pilates mat exercise
Woman practising mermaid Pilates mat exercise. Angela Coppola / Getty Images

Now graduate the warm up into a slight challenge by sitting on one hip with your legs folded behind you. Help support your body weight by extending the arm that's on the same side as the hip on which you're sitting, and placing that hand on the floor. Keeping your hip on the floor, lean into your hand. This will give your oblique muscles a bit of isometric work.

Stay there about 20-30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.


Assume a Remedial Plank Position

Young woman exercising in gym
Austrophoto Austrophoto / Getty Images

Now it's time to do the side plank. If you are recovering from a back condition, or are are not very strong, this may be the end of the line for you. That's okay. The remedial side plank position is a perfectly fine place to develop your oblique strength.

From the sitting position described in the previous slide, lower yourself down a bit so that your weight is supported on your hip and the side of the thigh that is closest to the floor. This leg should be slightly bent in order to help facilitate safe and accurate positioning. Your weight should also be supported on the forearms on the same side.  

Try to keep good form and alignment by keeping your upper hip and shoulder directly above the lower. Use your abs. Your top arm can rest by your side or you can put your hand on your hip (shown above.) Spend up to 1 minute in this position and then switch sides.


You're Now at an Oblique Abodminal Crossroads

Woman doing side plank
Klaus Vedfelt/DigitalVision/Getty Images

You're now at a crossroads. You can either stick with the remedial move described previously, or you can choose from two other options (or do them both.)

If you stick with the remedial option, work on keeping good form while you're in the position and try to add 1-2 seconds each time you practice.

The new choices are:

  • Graduate to the full side plank. In this position, you're supporting your weight on your hand and foot, and, of course, maintaining your alignment. To increase the challenge even further, lift the top arm up. For the queen of all challenges also lift your top leg.
  • Stick with the remedial position, but add a dynamic stability challenge to the position (see the next slide.) 

Add a Dynamic Stability Challenge to Your Remedial Side Plank

Man exercising on a fitness ball in a gym
Glow Wellness / Getty Images

If you choose to remain remedial, you can develop muscle balance and involve the muscles in your ribs a bit more by placing a fit ball or Bosu ball under your flank.

The ball will challenge your alignment and overall body balance. It's your job to maintain your top hip and shoulder directly over the bottom. If you find you have problems doing this, widen out your base of support by putting the top foot in front of the other on the floor.

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