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What is the BEST way to perform the Side Plank?

  • What is the BEST way to perform the Side Plank? 

Have YOU been trying to train your core using the side plank exercise, but are just not sure if you are doing it “right”?  Or, maybe you have been using the side plank exercise, but your symptoms are actually worse, then let me show YOU the best ways to perform the side plank exercise!

While there are a variety of ways to perform the “side plank” exercise, we are going to focus our efforts on a specific form based on how this exercise naturally developed in all of us.  As babies, all humans develop movement and posture in generally the same way, following from a set of specific movement and posture milestones that are met at particular moments over the first year of our lives. 

For our purposes, a version of side planking occurs at approximately 7-8 months old in babies, and it is referred to as the “oblique sit”.  This position comes from babies rolling from their backs to their sides, and transitions to movements like crawling. So, we will use this natural oblique sit position and its associated movements as the foundational basis for our side plank exercise.  

Oblique Sit Position and Exercise Basics

  • Begin by resting on your side, with your downside elbow directly underneath your shoulder, and your downside hip and knee flexed and bent out (to approximately 90°) in front of you…the “top-side” upper and lower extremities are resting on the body
  • Prior to the exercise, you must prepare for the movement by “uprighting” your body against gravity—this is accomplished by pressing down through your elbow/forearm to “raise” your chest, head, and neck “up and away” from the floor so that no part of your body/spine is “sagging”
  • Next, slightly rotate your upper body/chest forward so that your “top-side” shoulder is a bit “in front of” your downside shoulder…your head and neck will be straight, but turned slightly downwards, looking to the floor
  • From this “active, upright” position, you are now ready to move…reach with your topside arm obliquely forward and in front of you, turning your hand upwards as you reach—this will cause your upper body/chest to rotate further forward, shifting weight from your downside elbow into more of your forearm—hold this new “reaching” position, while paying attention to your ability to belly breathe and maintain a quality, spinal posture with no sagging or significant curvature  

Remember, this is an example of an exercise that utilizes the entire body, but, for now, we have chosen to focus on the upper quarter.  Specifically, you are simultaneously training both the stability and control function of the downside shoulder and arm (which also protects your head, neck, and upper back), while also training the movement and strength function of the topside upper extremity.  Of course, resistance can be added to the movement function of the topside arm, as well as varying the direction to which you “reach”.  

Advanced Oblique Sit (Pelvic Lifting)

  • Moving from the basic oblique sit exercise described above, you can continue to reach forwards, rotating your chest and shoulder even more, which then causes your pelvis to rotate atop your hips, thus shifting your lower quarter weight from your downside hip to the lateral aspect of your downside knee
  • Once weight is shifted to that knee, you can then use the downside lower quarter muscles to press the knee down into the floor, so that your pelvis and lower back can raise up and off the ground—hold this new position

This advancement is simply a continuation of the natural progression of the oblique sit that comes from normal baby development, and therefore, with practice, should become relatively easy to perform, as well as positively impactful on not just the upper quarter, but also the lower quarter.  Remember, that once your pelvis is raised up and off the ground, you must pay attention to the quality of your low back posture, making sure to keep your spine in line with your upper back and neck, and to not accentuate any spinal curves.   

Advanced Oblique Sit (Reach and Step)

  • Finishing the oblique sitting transition, now that you have fully reached forward with your topside upper extremity and performed the weight shift necessary to raise your pelvis and lower back up and off the ground, you will now complete the movement by “stepping” forward with your topside leg, lifting it off the ground by flexing at your hip, knee, and ankle
  • In this “finished” position, your body will be positioned on its side, being fully supported by both your downside knee and elbow, while the topside arm will be reaching obliquely forward and leg will be stepping forward, held in a position similar to that of the downside leg except “up and off” the ground
  • Again, hold this position while paying attention to your ability to belly breathe and maintain a quality, spinal posture with no sagging or significant curvature   

While the oblique sit exercises, as described, can be challenging, they serve as a great example of how you can incorporate natural movement patterns into core exercises such as the “side plank”.   The fact that the foundation for our exercises is based on developmental principles makes them a safer and more effective choice for core stabilization.  Additionally, all of these oblique sit exercises can be performed through support from your extended arm and hand, rather than your elbow, and resistance can always be added to the moving extremities if you wanted to increase the intensity of your training. 

A final piece of advice: if after attempting these oblique sit exercises your symptoms actually WORSEN, then these specific exercises may not be for you, so take a break and allow your symptoms to calm down. If they persist, you can try either ice or heat for relief. 

If you have been experiencing any significant symptoms, or would like guidance with your oblique sit and side plank, or require a professional evaluation and expert treatment that comes directly to your home or place of business, then schedule your house call appointment now with Dr. Bill: