Doing side planks offers a few benefits but not everyone likes them. Discover different and more effective alternatives to this exercise.
Side planks help you work your obliques, outer thigh muscles, and to some extent abs and shoulders.
In turn, this means that some of the benefits of side planks include helping you build muscle mass, burn calories, prevent back pain, etc.
Whether you don’t enjoy doing side planks, you want more elbow or shoulder-friendly options, you want a more effective exercise, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these side plank substitutes can offer you some or all of the same benefits.
Keep in mind that if you are not able to do a side plank yet, there are plenty of progression exercises to help you get there.
1. Side bends
This first alternative looks like and is a simple movement but it can be really challenging for the same oblique muscles that have to work during side planks.
Take the following steps to do a side bend:
- Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. You can hold your arms next to your sides or stretch them horizontally depending on how difficult you want side bends to be.
- Slowly tilt your upper body sideways as far as comfortable. Keep your neck in line with your upper body.
- Raise your upper body back into starting position and repeat the movement on the other side.
The main attention point for side bends is keeping your neck in line with your upper body.
Due to the direction of gravity, most people will have to hold some type of oblique workout equipment to make side bends challenging enough for muscle growth and strength progress.
This equipment can be basically any resistance that fits in one hand and includes things like a dumbbell, kettlebell, cable machine, resistance bands, but also household objects like a grocery bag or heavy backpack.
2. Hanging sideways knee raises
For hanging core exercises like sideways knee raises you need a captain’s chair, a pull-up bar, or another similar setup where your legs hang freely.
As an example, take the following steps to do a sideways knee raise on a pull-up bar:
- Hang from the pull-up bar with your hands at about shoulder-width with your hand palms facing forward. Let your legs hang down for now.
- Raise your knees held together to about hip height. Let gravity do its work on your lower legs throughout the exercise.
- Raise one hip as far as comfortable
- Repeat the same number of hip raises on the other side.
Once your skill level is up for it you can consider doing sideways leg raises or sideways knee raises with extra weights to make this exercise more challenging.
Ankle weights are great since they can’t fall down but you could also clamp a weight like a dumbbell between your legs.
This side plank alternative works similar oblique muscles. You may work your outer thigh muscles a tiny amount but this is not really the goal of hanging sideways leg raises.
3. Lying side leg raises
The next side plank alternative is easy to do at home without any machines or equipment. That being said, a soft surface like a yoga mat can make the exercise more comfortable.
Additionally, individuals more experienced with resistance training may need resistance bands or heavy ankle weights to make the exercise more challenging.
Take the following steps to do a bodyweight side leg raise:
- Lie down on your side with your body in more or less one straight line and adjust for stability.
- Raise one leg upward as far as comfortable or until it is at about a 45-degree angle with the ground. Make sure the movement comes from your thighs, not your hips or the rest of your body.
- Lower this leg back into the position of step 1 in a controlled motion.
- Repeat the same number of repetitions with the other leg.
To some people, it sounds surprising that side planks also work your outer thigh muscles a nice amount. Without using these, you would just drop down your hips to the ground.
Lying side leg raises are an exercise that focuses on growing and strengthening these outer thigh muscles in a dynamic way.
To use ankle weights in this exercise you simply strap them on your upper leg.
In the case of resistance bands, you loop them around your upper legs. Try to choose a challenging resistance band loop where you can still go through the full range of motion of the exercise.
4. Wood chop exercise
For the wood chop exercise you will need some type of suited resistance. A dumbbell or other free weights like a kettlebell, sandbags, medicine ball, etc. are great.
You can definitely also use resistance bands at home or a cable machine in the (home) gym. Take the following steps to do a wood chop with a dumbbell:
- Stand with your feet at about shoulder-width apart. Let your arms with the dumbbell in your arms hang down for now.
- Bring up the dumbbell to one side while keeping your arms slightly less than stretched. If needed you can turn your hips too. For this, you will likely need to lift the heel of one foot off the ground.
- Swing the dumbbell down and to the other side, again keeping your arms slightly less than stretched. Make sure you can still control the weight at the bottom of the movement. Again you can twist your hips if needed.
Make sure you don’t twist too far and keep your back straight to avoid any injuries. Especially if you have a sensitive back you want to turn your hips to avoid twisting your spine too far.
Even then, this side plank alternative is not for everyone.
When you first give the wood chop exercise a try, swing slowly to see where you are at in terms of being able to control the movement. After that, you can gradually increase the intensity of the exercise in safe steps.
Wood chops also work your oblique muscles but different parts than the side plank.
In this alternative, you work more on your rotation oblique muscles. This can be an upside or downside depending on your training goals.
5. Side crunches
Crunches are a popular exercise to work your ab muscles. By choosing variations like side crunches you can also work different core muscles.
Take the following steps to do a side crunch:
- Lie down sideways. You can fold your legs for stability and put one arm below your head for comfort. You can keep the upper arm against your body.
- Slowly raise your shoulders from the ground as much as comfortably possible while keeping your hips on the floor. Move your head along with your shoulders while keeping your neck in a straight position.
- Lower your shoulders and head in a controlled motion until you are back in the starting position.
- Repeat the same number of repetitions on the other side.
Side crunches work similar core muscles as side planks but in a more active way. This is generally more beneficial for muscle growth and strength progress.
Individuals more experienced with core training can hold some type of weight on their bodies to make this alternative even more effective.
For core training beginners and possibly even intermediates, this is likely not useful yet.
6. Ab wheel V-rolls
The ab wheel is a small and inexpensive piece of fitness equipment that is a wheel with two handles. It may not look like much but ab wheel exercises can offer a great ab and oblique workout.
A V-roll is an even more effective exercise than the regular rollout for engaging your oblique muscles.
Take the following steps to do an ab wheel knee V-roll:
- Start with your face facing the floor on your knees and with your hands on the ab wheel.
- Stretch your hips so that your body is in a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
- Roll forward and to one side in a controlled motion, preferably until your stomach is right above the ground.
- Slowly roll back into the position of step 2.
- Roll forward and to the opposite side as in step 3.
If you do this exercise right the ab wheel should draw an imaginary V-shape on the ground. By using the ab wheel this way you target your oblique muscles more than in regular knee roll-outs.
Ab wheel V-rolls are another alternative that works slightly different parts of the oblique muscles than side planks.
7. Suitcase carry
A suitcase carry is a strength training exercise where you simply pick up some type of weight from the ground with one hand and walk a certain distance or time.
Make sure you keep your posture upright and your hand palm with the weight facing your body.
A dumbbell is a typical example of a weight you can use but you can also use shoulder workout equipment like kettlebells, certain sandbags, certain weight plates, etc., and possibly even household objects like a grocery bag or heavy backpack.
The suitcase carry mainly works muscles like your obliques, trapezius, and grip muscles. Additionally, you work your glutes, quadriceps, calves, hamstrings to a certain extent.
This substitute engages your oblique muscles in a static way similar to side planks. So for more results in a short amount of time you would choose some of the other options on this list.
That being said, some people enjoy the suitcase carry which could make it a decent addition to a workout program.