Exercise of the Week – Side Plank

I’ve spent quite a bit of time on the front plank in the first few posts on the blog (you can find those here:  http://www.elitepttc.com/blog/?p=97 ).  Now I went to spend some time on another excellent plank variation that can provide some great core strengthening results when done correctly.

While the front plank emphasizes the ‘anterior’ core (front of the trunk), the side plank will emphasize the lateral core and hips (the sides of the trunk).  I’ve seen this exercise done many different ways but there are a few major technical aspects I want to address here to make sure you are getting the most benefit.

Alignment

The side plank is a challenging exercise so I see a lot of poor alignment in general, and even more so as the athlete get fatigued.  You should be able to draw a straight line from the ankles through the knee-hip-spine-shoulders-ear.  The biggest mistake I see are the hips lagging behind that line.  Check out the picture below:

Lacking Hip Extension

To keep the spine straight (and safe) and hips working to their full potential, think about pressing the hips forward when you lift up into the plank position.

You’ll also notice the more challenging it becomes to hold the position, the more your hips will tend to sag to the floor.  Keep the hips high throughout.  If unable, then the set must be over.  It does you no good to try to stay up any longer.

Breathing

I’ve ranted about this previously, but the way you breath is so important.  Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, is the key to firing up the inner core musculature that is responsible for segmental stabilization of the spine.  When the inner core unit is firing appropriately, you also move better and are capable of generating much more strength and power.  Take the time to get this right with all of your exercises.

Neck Alignment

Notice the alignment of the head and neck in the first picture – perfectly aligned with the rest of the body and looks strong.  It is strong!  The body goes where the head and eyes go so get that neck lined up and even chin tuck slightly (another inner core trigger).

Now look at the second picture where my hips are lagging behind – my neck and head are out of alignment and sagging downward.  It’s funny how when one thing goes, so do the others.

Hold Times and Reps –

Unlike what you’ll read most places, you don’t have to try to hold a side plank for a minute or more.  Start out performing 10 second holds, with 10 second rest breaks in between.  Perform as many perfect repetitions as possible.  When you can perform 6 perfect reps of 10 seconds, try 4 reps of 15 seconds.

The point is to work up to one minute with perfect alignment and breathing.  If you are doing the exercise right you should be smoked at one minute.
Next blog post I’ll discuss a few progressions for the front and side plank to make them more full body exercises, and much more challenging for athletes and those just looking to get into shape.