How to Do a Side Plank

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Beautiful Young Woman Performing Perfect Side Plank in Yoga
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Targets: Arms, back, core

Level: Intermediate

The side plank is a great exercise for strengthening the oblique abdominal muscles, which don't get worked during ab exercises such as crunches. You will hold your body on your side in straight position supported only by one arm and the side of one foot. Strong obliques can be quite useful as core stabilization muscles. Beginners must build the strength and balance needed with warmups for the obliques and modified side planks before progressing to the side plank. You can include side planks in your core exercise routine, Pilates, or yoga practice.

Benefits

The primary muscles used are the obliques, along with the gluteus medius and gluteus maximus to stabilize the hips. Your shoulder stabilizers keep you aligned as well. This exercise doesn't put pressure on your lower back or neck as many core exercises do. In pregnancy, the side plank is preferred as it places less stress on the center abdominal muscles. It is a balancing exercise and you will be building your balance and coordination. This exercise can help you be able to sustain good posture and ease of movement by building a strong core and better balance.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Lie on your right side, legs extended and stacked from hip to feet. The elbow of your right arm is directly under your shoulder. Ensure your head is directly in line with your spine. Your left arm can be aligned along the left side of your body.
  2. Engage your abdominal muscles, drawing your navel toward your spine.
  3. Lift your hips and knees from the mat while exhaling. Your torso is straight in line with no sagging or bending. Hold the position.
  4. After several breaths, inhale and return to the starting position. The goal should be to hold for 60 seconds. Change sides and repeat.

Common Mistakes

To get the most from this exercise, avoid these errors.

Hips Sagging

If you haven't built enough strength, you will find your hips sagging and you won't be able to maintain a straight line.

Rolling Forward

Without enough strength and balance, you may not be able to maintain the position and you'll find yourself rolling forward and unable to keep your hips and legs stacked.

Holding Too Long

At first, you may only be able to hold the side plank for a couple of seconds. As soon as you start sagging or rolling forward or backward, it is time to end the plank before you get a strain injury. Monitor your form and end as soon as you begin to fatigue.

Modifications and Variations

You can do side planks in different ways to help make them more accessible or to provide more of a challenge as you progress.

Need a Modification?

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.

Start with warmups before you do the side plank.

Mature woman exercising on gymnastics mat in gym
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Warm up your oblique abdominals with little curl-ups that go to the side.

  1. 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.
  2. When you're ready, do the little curls over to one side, moving up and down slowly to get the most strengthening benefits.
  3. Do at least five on each side.
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.

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.

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 to 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

Young woman exercising in gym
Austrophoto Austrophoto / Getty Images

If you aren't able to hold the side plank position, the remedial side plank position is a perfectly fine place to develop your oblique strength.

  1. From a sitting position, 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 forearm on the same side. 
  2. 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.
  3. Spend up to 1 minute in this position and then switch sides. Work on keeping good form while you're in the position and try to add 1-2 seconds each time you practice.
Man exercising on a fitness ball in a gym
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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.

Up for a Challenge?

There are many ways to progress your side plank once you have mastered the form and are stable in holding it.

The simplest way to increase the difficulty is to raise your top arm.

Side plank.
Side plank. Westend61/Getty Images

In yoga, the Side Plank Pose (Vasisthasana) is taught with the supporting arm straight. It is also taught this way as a Pilates exercise. This places more stress on the wrist while working additional muscles in the forearm. You can enter the straight arm variation from Plank Pose (Phalakasana).

The side plank.
Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

For the queen of all challenges, also lift your top leg. You can do this from the forearm support position or the straight arm support position. You will work your inner thigh muscles in raising the top leg, but there is no need to raise it higher than parallel to the ground. Another variation is to lift the lower leg off the floor, maintaining contact with the foot of the upper leg and your elbow or hand only.

Side Plank Lifted Leg
Deborah M. Kennedy

Safety and Precautions

You should avoid side plank if you have an injury to your shoulder, arm, elbow, or ankle. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about whether it is appropriate if you have any other injuries or conditions. Stop if you feel pain at any time.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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