Putting together a workout routine can be challenging with all the exercises available. Find out how to do side planks and whether you should do them more often.
As the name implies, a side plank is simply the regular plank exercise in a sideways position.
This exercise will mainly work your obliques and hip abductors (outer thigh muscles) in an isometric (static) way.
Something important to note is that isometric exercises like side planks tend to be less effective than dynamic exercises like side bends and weighted hip abductions for growing and strengthening muscles.
If you find the more dynamic exercises uncomfortable, you can still consider doing side planks. If not, one of the dynamic side plank alternatives is likely a better choice.
At the same time, isometric exercises like side planks can still offer results too if you do them with enough resistance and for the right durations.
How to do a side plank
Having something soft like a yoga mat to lean on can make side planks more comfortable.
That aside, take the following steps to do a side plank:
- Lie down sideways and lean with the lowest forearm on the ground. Keep the upper arm of this side about vertical.
- Move your feet away from your shoulder until your body is in a straight line from your heels to the top of your head. Keep the lowest upper arm about vertical.
- Hold this position for an extended period of time.
- Repeat the same duration on your other side.
There are two main attention points when doing side planks.
First of all, you want to keep your body in more or less a straight line. You don’t want to lower or raise your hips too much.
Secondly, you want to keep your neck in one line with your upper body.
Lastly, you also don’t want to forget to do the same duration side plank with your other elbow on the ground to avoid muscle imbalances.
Side plank variations and build-up exercises
The movement above is the standard version of the side plank.
There are also a few variations you can consider to make side planks easier, harder, or focus on different fitness components.
Additionally, there are build-up exercises that can help you work up to a full side plank.
Some people are not able to do a full side plank (yet).
The first way to get there is doing side plank progressions like knee side planks which are basically the same exercise but with your knees on the ground instead of your feet.
This will train the same muscles but at a more doable level.
There are also more dynamic exercises for the main muscles like side bends and weighted hip abductions.
The side plank position can become a bit boring and you still have a lot of body parts that can move around.
These things make it so there are a variety of side plank variations that focus on different fitness components and work additional muscles.
If regular side planks hurt your elbows too much you can also do a side plank with your hand on the ground and stretched arm.
This is mainly for elbow comfort but it also engages your arm muscles and balance slightly more.
Another example is something like a side plank leg lift where you move your upper leg up and down.
By doing this, you also train the hip abductor muscles of the upper leg. Additionally, the extra movement likely makes the side plank more challenging for your core muscles and balance.
People who are more experienced with resistance training will likely find side planks too easy relatively soon.
When this is the case, you need to make the movement harder to keep seeing a lot of muscle growth and strength progress. This can also speed up your results.
A simple no-equipment way to make exercise harder is to do side plank dips where you move your hips up and down during the side plank. This works similar muscles but to a larger extent.
Another option to work similar muscles is doing weighted side planks. These are basically the same exercise but with weights like a dumbbell, medicine ball, kettlebell, etc. on your hip.
You can also engage the oblique muscles that twist your upper body more by doing a side plank with rotation. This variation involves reaching under your body with your upper arm by twisting your upper body.
Muscles worked with side planks
Compound exercises like side planks engage a variety of muscles at the same time. That being said, only a few of these will have to work really hard.
Some of the primary muscles worked with side planks include:
- Hip abductors (outer thigh muscles)
Some of the secondary muscles worked with side planks include:
- Erector spinae (lower back)
- Glutes (butt)
- Quadriceps (front thighs)
- Variety of upper back muscles
- Deltoids (shoulders)
Something important to note about side planks is that they work your obliques and hip abductors in an isometric (static) way.
Besides the initial lift, these muscles will not have to shorten or lengthen.
This is important to note because more dynamic exercises tend to be more effective for growing and strengthening muscles.
Side planks can still be helpful for people who find moving their spine and hips too uncomfortable. However, if this does not apply to you, there are more effective exercises.
That aside, you also want to keep in mind that you have to challenge muscles enough to grow and strengthen them.
For many people, the regular bodyweight version of the side plank will be too easy to achieve these goals. In a situation like that, you need to add weights or movements to see a lot of results.
Side plank exercise benefits
Even if there are more effective alternatives for growing and strengthening muscles, side planks still offer benefits. Some of the most helpful ones include:
- Stronger muscles: Even isometric exercises like side planks can help you grow and strengthen muscles if you do them with enough resistance and for long enough.
- Helps you avoid muscle asymmetries: Side planks are an exercise where you work your muscles on one side at a time. This can help you avoid muscle asymmetries.
- Bodyweight exercise: In theory, you don’t need any equipment to do side planks. This makes it so you can do them in many locations and with a low budget. In practice, you may need some type of weight to make the side plank more challenging.
- Could be more comfortable: Isometric exercises like side planks can be helpful for individuals who find more dynamic alternatives too uncomfortable. That being said, this benefit is not relevant for everyone.
- May reduce or prevent back pain: Side planks can help you grow and strengthen core muscles like your obliques. This can help you avoid or reduce back pain (1, 2). You do want to be careful if you have any back pain and potentially talk to an expert before adding any side planks to your routine.
Side planks are not the only movement that offers these benefits but this does show you that just adding one exercise routine can offer helpful positive effects.
Before doing side planks you want to know that some people find this exercise uncomfortable in areas like their back, hips, elbows, shoulder, and neck. Even when implementing the right technique.
If you are weak or sensitive in these body parts, you may want to start out with other strengthening exercises.
People who have back pain may way even want to talk to an expert before implementing side planks into their workout routines.
If you feel any pain while doing side planks you may be overdoing it. In that case, it is possible that you need more rest, better lifestyle habits, a less intense workout schedule, and/or other strengthening exercises first.
Side plank alternatives
Side planks do offer benefits but if you don’t have a specific preference for them, other exercises can be more effective. Some of these side plank alternatives include:
- Side bends
- Weighted leg abductions
- Ab wheel V-rolls
- Russian twists
- Bicycle crunches
- Windshield wiper exercise
What side plank alternatives you prefer depends on things like your training goals, what your body can deal with, and what fitness equipment you have available.
Side planks can be a helpful exercise to train your obliques and outer thigh muscles in an isometric way.
Keep in mind that you may need to make the bodyweight version more challenging to see muscle growth and strength progress.
Additionally, more dynamic resistance training exercises tend to be more effective for these fitness goals.
One reason to consider doing side planks instead of dynamic exercises anyway is if you find these alternatives uncomfortable on your spine and/or hips.
Additionally, you may like doing side planks. In that case, staying consistent with a workout routine that includes this exercise may be easier.
Make sure you get enough nutrients, rest, and sleep no matter what resistance training exercise you choose. Your body needs these things to repair, grow, and strengthen your muscles.