Side Plank Progressions: Easier & Harder

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Side planks can offer some helpful benefits. With the right progressions, you can work up to your first minute or make the exercise harder.

To do the regular version you lean sideways on one elbow or hand and your feet with your body in a straight line. There are plenty of side plank variations and other exercises that can be used as progressions or regressions.

So even if you currently can’t hold a side plank for more than a minute, or on the other hand find side planks too easy, there are exercises that can improve your workout plan.

Important general guidelines

Before getting into the exercises there are a few general guidelines you need to know. These can help you make your side planks more comfortable and increase the benefits you get from them.

The main attention point for side plank progressions specifically is keeping your neck in line with your upper body.

When it comes to general resistance training guidelines you want to give your muscles at least a day of rest in between plank progression sessions. This means you can train 3-4 times a week in total.

Additionally, you want to rest around 2 minutes in between each side plank hold.

Lastly, make sure you give your body enough nutrients and sleep to repair and grow your muscles when working on these side plank progressions.

If you don’t do this your body won’t be able to repair and strengthen your muscles in time for the next session. This will result in a lot less or no progress.

Beginner side plank progressions

Some people are not yet able to hold a full side plank for a significant amount of time. Fortunately, it is possible to strengthen your body and achieve this goal if you follow the right steps and training.

There are two main methods to do this, the first one is generally more effective than the second one.

Progression method 1

The side plank is an exercise that mainly engages your oblique and outer thigh muscles. These muscles will generally fail first when doing a side plank.

These muscles have to work to keep your hips at the right angle and to stop your hips from lowering. If you can’t hold a side plank (for a certain duration), it means these muscles need to become stronger.

The way you strengthen muscles is by challenging them enough. You can do this in a static, isometric, way like side planks or in a more active, isotonic, way with a variety of other exercises.

In general, more active exercises are more effective for growing and strengthening muscles. This includes your obliques and outer thighs.

For that reason, the first and recommended method for getting to a full side plank or increasing the duration you can hold one is doing more active exercises for the muscle mentioned.

Some examples of side plank alternatives include side bends, side crunches, bicycle crunches, etc. to train your obliques. and exercises like lying leg abductions, fire hydrants, clamshells, etc. to train your outer thighs.

You can do as many repetitions of these exercises as possible for 3-6 sets (with 2 minutes of rest in between).

If you can do 12 repetitions or more in a row of these exercises with good technique, you can likely hold a side plank for a decent duration.

To improve your side plank duration even more after that, you can do the mentioned exercises with extra resistance. This makes the exercise more challenging and in turn, helps you grow and strengthen your muscles more.

How to do a side leg raise

Progression method 2

The next exercise to progress to a full side plank is less effective but more of a regression that is closely related to the regular version.

Incline side planks are a variation where you put your elbow on a sturdy, elevated platform. By doing this less weight rests on your core and outer thighs and the exercise becomes easier. Even within this single exercise you can have different progression levels.

You can start by doing 3-6 incline side planks for as long as possible (with 2 minutes rest between each set) with a surface at hip height per session until you are able to do them for about 2 minutes. Make sure the elevated surface is stable and sturdy.

Next, you can transition to the same numbers but for incline side planks with an elevated surface at about knee height. Again, when you can do incline side planks of about 2 minutes you should be able to progress to the ground.

Progression method 3

Knee side planks, also known as modified side planks, are similar to a side plank but instead of leaning on your feet, you lean on your knees.

By doing this, your oblique and outer thigh muscles have to work less hard to keep your body in a straight line. A soft surface can make these knee side planks more comfortable on your knees.

Per training session, you want to do knee side planks as long as possible for 3-6 times (with 2 minutes of rest in between).

Once you are able to do knee side planks of about 2-3 minutes you should be able to do regular side planks long enough to make it worth transitioning.

How to do a knee side plank

The regular side plank

If you can do the exercises above for the mentioned number of repetitions or durations you can likely do a side plank for at least 30 seconds.

You can lean on either your hands with slightly less than stretched arms or your forearms with bent arms. The forearm version will be a tiny amount more challenging.

The main attention points for both side planks are keeping your neck in line with your upper body and keeping your shoulders more or less above your hands or elbows depending on what variation you are doing.

Harder side plank progressions

Regular bodyweight side planks can help resistance training beginners and possibly intermediates get some extra muscle growth and strengthening.

However, most people will have to make the bodyweight version more challenging to keep seeing progress (if they are eating, resting, and sleeping well) at some point.

When this is the case, there are a few harder side plank progressions to choose from. The main two categories include weighted side planks and harder bodyweight progressions.

Which category is the best for you depends on your personal preferences, personal situation, training goals, equipment available, etc. You can even do some of the harder bodyweight progressions with extra weights too.

Most people can consider these harder progressions once they are able to hold a regular side plank for about 1-2 minutes.

Weighted side planks

The main reason why regular side planks become too easy is that your muscles get strong enough for the weight (your bodyweight) they have to keep elevated.

At this point, you have to challenge your muscles more to make them stronger (again if you are eating, resting, sleeping well). One of the most straightforward ways to do this is by putting external weights on your hips.

To do weighted side planks you have multiple equipment options. You can hold a free weight like a dumbbell on your hip with your free arm but you can also wear a weighted vest as low as possible.

Increase these weights as you get stronger to see even more muscle growth and strengthening. You can also make weighted side planks more dynamic by moving your hips up and down.

How to do a weighted side plank

Bodyweight side plank progressions

Some people don’t want to invest in extra weights or simply prefer to keep things bodyweight. For these individuals, there are also a few progressions to choose from.

The first progression is a side plank hip dip. In this exercise, you start in a regular side plank and lower and elevate your hips. This makes the movement more dynamic and harder on your obliques and outer thighs.

Next, you can elevate your feet so your side plank is more or less horizontal. Feet elevated side planks are slightly harder on your muscles. Additionally, if you combine this with the side plank hip dip you can go through a larger range of motion.

Lastly, a side plank progression that takes it in a different direction is the side plank leg lift. In this variation, you raise the upper leg.

By doing this you make the exercise harder on the outer thigh muscles of both of your legs and slightly easier on the inner thigh muscles of your upper leg.

As mentioned before, you can also add weights to these side plank progressions. In most cases, this means holding a weight on your hips with your free arm but in the case of side plank leg lifts you can also wear a pair of good ankle weights.

How to do a side plank leg lift
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Matt Claes founded Weight Loss Made Practical to help people get in shape and stay there after losing 37 pounds and learning the best of the best about weight loss, health, and longevity for over 4 years. Over these years he has become an expert in nutrition, exercise, and other physical health aspects.