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a man holds forearm side plank

The side plank is a great core trainer that not only ­strengthens your midsection but also builds lateral stability through the side-body and improves overall balance. This body-weight move targets muscles of the outer hips, inner thighs, and lower back. It also helps improve stability through the upper body.

The basic side plank calls for extending both legs to balance your body on your feet and one forearm. But there are numerous variations to adapt the move to a range of abilities and fitness levels.

To scale it down, bend your bottom leg and drop your knee to the floor. Or keep your bottom leg extended and step your top leg forward for a wider base.

To make it harder, extend your base arm to balance on your hand; extend your top arm over your shoulders or overhead; or lift and hold your top leg so you balance on just your bottom foot.

For more dynamic variations, try incorporating leg raises, or perform a logroll plank, transitioning from a standard plank — face down, balancing on both arms and feet — and rolling to one side into a side plank.

All side-plank variations call for a focus on form: Strive to maintain a proud, elongated posture, forming a straight line from head to heels. It can be helpful to imagine that your body is pressed between two panes of glass, preventing you from shifting forward or back.

These tips can help you make the most of your next side-plank session.

  • Your free hand can be placed lightly on your top hip, or extended overhead.
  • Square your shoulders over your base — your elbow or, if extending your base arm, your hand — and don’t let them round forward.
  • Maintain a neutral neck and spine. Hold your gaze in front of you.
  • Keep your hips stacked and fight the urge to let them dip down.

Instructions

  1. Lie on your side and prop yourself up on that side’s forearm, stacking your shoulder over your elbow. Press through that arm to keep your shoulder away from your ear and maintain a long neck.
  2. Extend your legs. Stack your upper foot on top of the bottom one, if it’s comfortable, or stagger your feet so they are both on the floor.
  3. Press through your base arm and feet, and raise your body off the floor. Engage through your core and the muscles of your base arm and legs, keeping your hips elevated.
  4. Hold the position for three deep breaths (20 to 30 seconds). Relax, then repeat on your other side.

Progress the Move

Two Advanced Side-Plank Variations

If you can hold a great-form side-plank for one minute, try these advanced progressions of the move.

Side Plank With Leg Raise

  • Lie on your right side and press up into a side-plank position, with your forearm, and foot on the floor, and your body forming a straight line from head to heels, with your upper back, glutes, and heels against a wall.
  • Keeping your legs straight, squeeze your glutes, flex your left foot, and lift your leg straight into the air. (You can set up in front of a wall and use your left heel against the wall as a guide to maintain proper positioning.)
  • Pause, slowly lower your leg, and repeat.
  • Do two or three sets of 10 to 15 reps per side.

Too hard? Drop the right knee to the floor for added support, or perform the move lying flat on the floor on your side.

Logroll Plank

  • Starting in a standard front-plank position, lift one elbow off the floor and roll to one side until you’re in a side-plank position. Keep the hips and shoulders aligned throughout.
  • Rotate your body back down to front plank, again moving the body as a unit.
  • Repeat for three sets of eight to 10 on each side, stopping short if you cannot maintain great form.
  • Make it harder by speeding up each repetition without sacrificing form.

This article originally appeared as “The Side Plank” in the September 2021 issue of Experience Life.

Photography by: Kelly Loverud; Styling by: Pam Brand; Fitness Model: Kyler Eid
Maggie
Maggie Fazeli Fard

Maggie Fazeli Fard, RKC, is an Experience Life senior editor.

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