Posture, balance and graceful movement are all attributes of a healthy lifestyle. Strong oblique muscles are an important part of the equation. They stabilize your torso and are responsible for sideways bending and torso rotation. They also assist with torso flexion. When you do a side plank, the internal and external obliques are primary movers. Other primary muscles used in this exercise are the transversus abdominis and the gluteus medius and minimus.
Frequency, Intensity and Order
It's a good idea to train your core muscles at least three days a week, but daily is better. For best results, perform each repetition slowly and with precision. Four repetitions done correctly are much more effective than 20 sloppy repetitions. Instead of trying to keep up with a music beat, focus on tightening the muscles with each contraction. As you get stronger, increase the intensity by staying in the raised position longer or resting a weight on the outside of your hip.
What To Avoid
When you are learning a new movement, the muscles you habitually use often take over, and you end up doing more of what you always did. It's common to try to use your shoulders, neck and back to do a side plank. To prevent this from happening, keep your torso straight and your lower elbow on the floor. Focus on your waist and imagine a corset is being tightened as you lift your hip off the floor.
Side Plank With Bent Knees
To learn how to engage the proper muscles, begin with bent knees. Lie on your side, straighten your hips, stack one leg over the other and bend your knees, bringing your feet behind you. Place your elbow directly below your shoulder and raise your chest off the floor so you are supporting your upper body on your elbow. Keep your torso straight and your neck aligned with your torso. Exhale with an open throat, as if you are singing a low note, and lift your hip off the floor. You should be balanced between your elbow and the outside of your lower knee. Hold for a count of three, then slowly lower your hip down to the floor.
Once you can hold the side plank with bent knees for 10 to 20 seconds, advance to a side plank with straight legs. Prepare like you did for the bent-knee variation, but this time keep your legs straight. Brace your abdominals with an open-throat exhale, and lift your hip off the floor. Raise your upper arm toward the ceiling so it is perpendicular to the floor. In the raised position, you will be balancing on the outside of your lower foot and your elbow. Lower your hip to the floor slowly and with control.
Side Plank With Oblique Crunch
When you are ready for a greater challenge, increase the intensity with an oblique crunch. Lift your rib cage and hips off the floor into a plank position. Place your upper hand behind your head so your elbow points toward the ceiling. With your hip lifted, rotate your torso to bring your upper elbow down toward the lower one. Return to start position. For a real challenge, straighten your upper arm and reach it toward the ceiling. Rotate your torso toward the floor and reach your arm underneath your ribs and behind you.
- ACE Advanced Health & Fitness Specialist Manual; American Council on Exercise
- American Council on Exercise: Side Plank With Bent Knee
- American Council on Exercise: Side Plank
Cindy Killip is a health and fitness specialist, health coach, author and speaker who has been teaching and writing about exercise and wellness since 1989. She authored "Living the BONES Lifestyle: A Practical Guide to Conquering the Fear of Osteoporosis." Killip holds multiple certifications through the American Council on Exercise and degrees in communications and sociology from Trinity University.