Side planks are one of the most valuable core exercises.
They are one of the best for training lateral core stability, a quality that many people are lacking in (especially on their right side).
Side planks can also be modified to help people suffering from back pain. When I hurt my back about a year and a half ago I must have done 3000 side plank holds.
I happened to be reading one of Stuart McGill’s books at the time which was convenient. In his book, he recommends the side plank, partial curl up, and birddog as a starting point to rebuild core stability.
Once I got better at activating the lateral core muscles, the back pain seemed to go away.
The only issue with side planks is that they get butchered since they are an “easy” exercise to perform.
Training with side planks suggests that we want to improve core stability. In order for that to happen, we must be in neutral and avoiding any flexion/extension of the spine.
Unfortunately, most people to not get into a good position for the side plank and then dismiss the exercise since they can hold it forever.
Fix the position and by 7 seconds of holding they are going to be in trouble.
Mistakes for side planks are as follows.
- Incomplete Hip Extension
The first mistake is that people do not bring their hips all the way forward. This is a compensation to make the exercise easier.
A good side plank should have knees, hips, and shoulders all in one line. Most people will need to push their hips forward when performing side planks.
- The Hips are too high
Another compensation pattern is to bring the hips higher towards the ceiling. This makes a lateral arch in the spine.
Arches have been used for a number of years in construction/engineering etc. to help support weight.
We do not want arches in the side plank. An arch means that we are relying on the passive structures (bones, ligaments, tendons) of the spine and not the muscles that we are targeting.
The side of the leg should be right in line with the side of the torso to avoid bringing the hips too high. Lowering the hips down will target the muscles much harder and not allow us to hold the side plank for days.
- Crunching on the way down
The point of the side plank is to train stability. When we go to the floor after holding a side plank, we must not compromise that stability.
Most people will just drop their hips to the floor which creates lateral flexion in the spine. This is counterproductive to stability.
Instead of dropping the hips arbitrarily we can hinge the hips back and forth to get in and out of the correct position.
- Choosing a variation that is too hard
Most people are going to jump right into a side plank from the feet.
This is probably going to be too difficult for most people to perform perfectly. The easiest variation is from the knees and this should be the starting point for most.
Start with the basics and progress as the exercise becomes easier.
Last but not least I want to change the way that we think of sets, reps, etc. Traditionally side planks have been done for time. 30 seconds or 1 minute have been common holds.
Instead of long holds, we can perform short holds and repeated reps. For example, 7 second hold, 3 second rest, and repeat 5 times on each side.
The short interval allows better technique since the hold is much shorter. When the hold is longer, we must find compensation patterns to maintain position.
Try the shorter work time and repeat the reps to better train muscular endurance.