Side Plank Builds Strength and Stability Where You NEED It

By on September 28, 2023

You might be eager to dismiss the side plank as a beginner exercise that you don’t need.

But don’t! STOP IT.

Side plank is, in fact, the missing piece of the core-training puzzle. It represents a compound symphony of muscle engagement in areas that we so-often overlook.

Side plank

For athletes, this is not just another exercise but a tool to develop core strength for sideways, cutting movements. And to develop balance, stability, and resilience against a number of common injuries.

But, of course, as a very accessible exercise, it’s also one that can be used by anyone to develop a better physique and healthier movement. 

And it’s not just the mid-section you’ll be training, either. Rather, you’ll be working the entire side of your body – including the legs, hips, and glutes. It works the shoulders, too, and is brilliant for fixing potential imbalances between the two sides of your body.

Can you say that your current training program already does all that? No? Then it’s time to play, Plankety Plank.

Plankety Plank – Core Benefits

We’ll get more into the technique in a moment. But what you essentially need to know, is that the side plank involves lying on your side and proping yourself up on one arm and 

As mentioned, the plank trains the core muscles. Specifically, though, it trains the obliques around the front, the quadratus lumborum around the back, and the multifidus muscles that travel down either side of the spine. 

All of this helps to stabilise the core during movement in the frontal plane. That means side to side movements – which are crucial not only for most sports, but also for general day-to-day living. If you walk, you move side to side. The problem is, nearly all of our training is usually in the sagittal plane. 

Side Plank on Bench

Thus, using the plank will make you faster when changing direction. It will make you less prone to injury when carrying something on one side. And it will give you more stability for those all-important rotational movements. Training the obliques this way is ALSO key for developing a ripped looking mid-section. Many people focus so much on the abs that they forget what a difference the detail around the six pack can make. 

Spinal Stability

More importantly, perhaps, it will help to keep your spine straighter: reducing unwanted lateral curvature (i.e. scoliosis) and thus reducing back pain AND preventing injury during big lifts. We talk a WHOLE lot about not rounding the back too much during the deadlift. But have you thought about what happens when your spine curves the other way while placed under heavy load? It’s not pretty.

Spinal stability

This is achieved via strengthening of the multifidus muscles. The multifidus muscles run down either side of the spine and contribute to lateral flexion and extension, as well as rotation. These tiny muscles are so important, in fact, that they contain fibres that are stronger and stiffer than any others in the human body. They typically act in an anticipatory manner: bracing prior to an expected impact (such as when you step off the last step) to keep the spine straight.

Hip Stability

You’ll also be stabilising the hips at the same time. This is achieved by strengthening the QL muscles on either side. These muscles run from the iliac crest and insert on the transverse process of lumbar one through five. They thereby help to prevent the hips from dropping during regular gait. You’ll reduce the likelihood of twisted ankles or dislocated hips.

It also means that side plank can address issues including ankle and knee pain!

AND the side plank will train the gluteus minimus and gluteus medius. The glute medius plays a similarly crucial role in stabilising the pelvis during leg movements and prevents the pelvis from dropping to the opposite side while performing plank. This works in synergy with the gluteus minimus, which is aids with hip abduction. Training the glute medius and minimus contributes significantly to additional hip stability and this can even translate to a stronger and deeper squat!

Addressing Imbalances

Because the side plank is necessarily unilateral – meaning you have to train each side individually – it forces you to address imbalances. This is really important for a lot of us. Something as simple as crossing your leg on one side more than the other, can eventually lead to imbalances in the QL muscles that result in pelvic instability and hips dropping during regular gait. This is particularly important for preventing falls on rough terrain and for allowing athletes to more efficiently transfer energy into the ground during sprinting. If one leg is dropping slightly more than the other, imagine how this might hamper your running time over a long distance!

Clean Handstand

Shoulder Stability and More

Finally, side plank is great for the shoulders because it places them under resistance from an angle we don’t typically experience. This trains the serratus anterior – a similarly overlooked muscle group – and improves your ability to push sideways while maintaining a stable shoulder blade.

In other words: side plank trains the multifidus, quadratus lumborum, serratus anterior, obliques, gluteus minimus, and gluteus medius. All muscles that you’re likely vaguely aware of but may not have been giving much love in the gym. All muscles that are crucial for overall performance. All muscles critical for healthy, optimal movement.

Better yet, it works them all together, thereby teaching the body to brace down one side for unstoppable stability.

Proper Form and Awesome Variations

Okay, so with that in mind how do we go about performing the side plank?

Well, really, this is a rare case of a movement that is as easy as it looks. You start by lying on one side with blade of the bottom foot and either the elbow or the hand being the only contacts with the ground. Of course, using a straight arm makes the movement slightly more difficult.

Try to ensure that your spine is straight the entire time and that you aren’t allowing your waist to sag sideways. Likewise try to keep your spine straight all the way up and your hand (or elbow) stacked directly below your shoulder.

And that’s kind of it! 

Side Plank Variations

Beyond that, we can start experimenting with some of the more interesting variations that will take this from a beginner exercise to something a lot more challenging and appropriate for advanced gym-goers.

For example, we can start with raising one leg in order to increase the resistance on the supporting leg, to train a little hip mobility, and to increase the balance challenge (and thus the proprioceptive benefits of being in this position).

Harder Side Plank

If you want to add a rotational element, then a rotational reach can be a great addition. This takes the regular side plank and adds something akin to thread the needle, by having you reach through and behind yourself and then up to the ceiling. Try to rotate at the thoracic spine, as much as possible, keeping the lumbar spine and hips still. 

There are many dynamic variations, too. You can grab a dumbbell and practice raising it in front of yourself. You can kick forward, giving yourself more of a stabilisation challenge. You can even roll from side to side or do hops.

Of course, you can also elevate your legs to make the movement more challenging.

One of the coolest variations, though, is the Copenhagen plank. Here, you elevate your legs on a bench, but only by placing one of them on top of the bench. The other will remain underneath the bench and this will require significant work from your hip adductors to keep your body stable.

Side Plank on Gate

As you can see, the side plank is perfectly able to grow along with you, making it an ideal option for anyone to train with, regardless of level.

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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