Remember how I said the balance between the front, sides and back of your core all seems important? This exercise is my preferred method for training the side of the core with beginners. Like the front plank, it is also a great shoulder stability drill, but places a little more stress on one shoulder, at a slightly different angle. Do not be surprised if your shoulders shake a little more in the side plank than in the front plank. This movement is a generally a little more challenging for people, which makes it arguably a little more important to focus on improving, and makes the progression model different from the front plank.
Don’t let this exercise deceive you, it’s not as easy as it might look. To do it well, the spine must get to neutral, both relative to the floor and relative to the rotational forces you’ll have to deal with in this position. It requires a lot of practice and often a partner and/or wall to help you get into the right position.
The Basic Position
When I say that you should be able to hold this position for roughly 90 seconds on each side, remember that balance from side to side is still more important in relation to the front plank and the back of your core as well (sorensen assessment).
What makes the side plank more challenging than the front plank is the smaller base of support. Rather than four points of contact, you have two points of contact, making the side plank challenging in all planes of movement. You must get the spine neutral from side to side, front and back and resist any urge to rotate while doing this exercise.
This is often inevitably where the side plank becomes the most challenging. Everything looks good when you look at yourself straight on in the mirror. Meaning you have control over the side-to-side movement, but from front to back people will often rely on less than ideal patterns of movement. They will often lean the top half of the body too far back, or too far forward, or even have the top hip forward and the top shoulder back, or vice versa as they fight to find stability from somewhere.
Remember that many of these drills are about improving quality of movement and improve your ability to determine where you body is in space. You’ll need some kind of feedback for this, which is why first and foremost I recommend having a training partner or coach who can help put you in the right positions.
If you can’t do that, try this variation that removes the front to back stability problem. If you can see yourself in a mirror here, even better.
Side Plank Against a Wall
It might be a little difficult to see from here, but her elbow and heels are both back towards the wall. This allows her to find that 3 points of contact recurring theme; back of her head is touching, her upper back is touching and her glutes are all touching the wall.
For most people, this makes the movement just slightly easier to manage, particularly if the shoulder is the weak point. The packed shoulder position is ideal for the side plank to work well, notice that her elbow is directly below the shoulder.
Like the front plank, you’re better off doing multiple repetitions of three to ten second holds. Start with the hip flexed and on the ground, then practice hinging the hips forward to get into the correct position. This may require some additional feedback from a partner, or the wall if you don’t have an external pair of eyes.
If both of those variations are too tough to hold for even short amounts of time, you can shorten the lever as we did with the front plank.
Kneeling Side Plank
The set up for this even more closely resembles a glute bridge but from the side. Elbow directly under the shoulder, knees bent straight back behind you and then try to find that straight position but pushing the hips forward and up into the starting position.
If you can do six repetitions of ten second holds in this position, you’re probably ready for three to five second holds in the wall side plank position. I often start people here if they feel unsure about their shoulder stability.
The first way to increase the difficult from there before getting to the full side plank is to extend your top leg from the kneeling position, like so:
Feet Elevated Side Plank
To progress the side plank, we can do a lot of what we did with the front plank. First by elevating the feet, and sometimes people can find this position even slightly more easy to get into, because it’s straighter relative to gravity. Unlike the feet elevated front plank, where many people feel like they are falling forward, the feet elevated side plank puts people in almost perfect straight lines.
You can see that this position is quite difficult. Moving to a stability ball with only one point of contact would be extremely challenging, which is why this is the final progression for the front plank in this book. In keeping with the general theme, you want to be able to control this movement, like the front plank statically, before adding movement to the sequence. In the case of the side plank, that could be moving the top leg, rotating the top arm, or even changing the position of the feet and adding rotational movement, but if unless you’ve mastered six to nine reps of the ten second hold of this, you probably aren’t ready for that. Remember it’s important to train yourself where you’re at.