Side planks are an excellent exercise to strengthen the entire body, from the hips to the core and all the way up to the shoulders. However, not everyone can or should start with the traditional side plank. Also, there are so many variations and side plank progressions to target different body areas that you shouldn’t only settle for the traditional side plank! In this article, you will learn the ultimate side plank guide that includes side plank progressions and side plank variations.
Side Plank Progressions
You cannot progress the demand of an exercise without understanding basic physics and biomechanics. However, we are going to skip the heavy science and try to keep it simple for you. With side plank progressions, it is going to be harder on the hip and core muscles the more horizontal you are, and with the knees straight. The side plank is going to be easier with the knees bent and the more vertical your body is. Demonstrated below are side plank progressions with various micro-changes that change the difficulty of the exercise. There is no doubt that you’ll find variations that suit your training program, your patients, your clients, and more!
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Side Plank On Elevated Surface
Sample [P]rehab Core Program
The side plank on the elevated surface is an excellent regression to the traditional side plank. Remember, the less horizontal you are, the less challenging it is. I like to give this exercise to anyone that reports shoulder discomfort with the regular side plank, or simply cannot perform the traditional side plank with optimal form. The optimal form looks like a straight line that can be drawn from the feet to the top of the head with the knees, hips, and shoulders parallel to the line!
Modified Side Plank With Reps
One of the easiest (and honestly our favorite) ways to modify the side plank is to do exactly that, perform the modified side plank! Modified meaning on knees, the modified side plank is a staple [P]Rehab exercise for many reasons. Typically prescribed in back, hip, and knee rehab, the modified side plank is an excellent way to train anti-lateral trunk lean. This is achieved by the trunk and proximal hip muscles (obliques, paraspinals, glutes). We love the modified side plank for knee pain as you can train the hip muscles for strength and stability without loading the knee!
When performed correctly, the modified side plank is a true butt burner! What we have learned in the clinic is that performing the modified side plank with reps is a good starting point prior to the side plank progressions of holding a modified side plank.
Modified Side Plank With Isometric Clam Hold
Now that you have mastered the modified side plank with isometric hold, it is time to work both sides of your hip muscles! Perform a clamshell motion by lifting the top knee as high as you can while keeping your feet together. You should feel the muscles on the outside of your top hip burning now! The goal is to maintain maximal separation between both knees, don’t let that top knee sag down!
Tall Modified Side Plank With Isometric Hip Abduction
Sample Core [P]rehab Program Exercise
The tall modified side plank is a nice alternative to the side plank and modified side plank for a few reasons. Sometimes this position feels better on the shoulder and collarbone region, also it makes the exercise less demanding on the core as the body is now oriented more vertical (depending on your hand position). However, with the arm extended and the body further away from the ground, balance will be challenged more. This position can also put stress on the wrist, watch the video for tips and cues on hand position.
This exercise will still challenge the hip closer to the ground, but adding the isometric leg lift of the top leg will challenge both sides! After you get your balance figured out, focus on the glute burn!
Side Planks Not Enough? Here Is More Core Content!
Tall Modified Side Plank With Hip Abduction
Once the isometric hold gets easy, level up with the side plank progressions and make it dynamic. We dare you to add a band, it’s no joke!
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Sample Core [P]rehab Program Exercise
Full circle and the side plank progressions come to the traditional side plank. Remember, the more horizontal you are with your knees straight, the more challenging the side plank is! You can make this dynamic or isometric, you can also change your feet to be heel-toe oriented to help with balance. Being able to perform the traditional side plank with optimal form is not easy!
From this article, you can pick and choose what side plank variations work best for you! Once you begin to master a specific type of side plank, mix it up to continue progressing as well as add variability to your exercise routine. Happy side planking!
Take Your Core Performance To The Next Level
The outcome of a great core program is NOT a 6-pack but it if does happen we are sure you wouldn’t be upset! The core should be thought of as both a dynamic suitcase and an energy transfer center. The goal is to build a rock-solid suitcase for each aspect of the core and to improve its ability to transfer energy to and from the legs and arms.
About The Author
Craig Lindell, PT, DPT, CSCS
[P]rehab Co-Founder & Chief Content Officer
Craig is a South Jersey native & Penn State Kinesiology Alumni. When the opportunity came, Craig packed his bags and drove to California to pursue his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California. With [P]rehab, Craig oversees all digital content creation and multi-channel publication that reaches millions of people on a weekly basis. As a PT, Craig has a wide array of experience from working with various neurological conditions to working with collegiate & professional athletes across the Big Five in North American sports. Experiencing physical therapy first-hand as a soccer player in high school, Craig has a passion & special interest in adolescent athletic development working with young athletes to overcome injuries. In his spare time, Craig enjoys exercising, playing golfing, hiking, traveling, watching Philly sports, and spending quality time with his family.
Disclaimer – The content here is designed for information & education purposes only and is not intended for medical advice.