6 Side Plank Variations for a Killer Core

Work your obliques and other critical core stabilizing muscles with these Side Plank variations.

Do you want a stronger core? If a Side Plank variation isn't part of your regular core workout routine, you're missing out on one of the most effective and safest core-strengthening exercises.

The Side Plank primarily strengthens the obliques, which are located next to your abs on both sides of your body. However, this is a full-body exercise that also trains the muscles in your hips, chest and shoulders.

Side Plank variations are based on the same philosophy as traditional Planks, which is to prevent movement of your spine—how your core is designed to function. Rather than working your obliques by bending laterally with Dumbbell Side Bends, your muscles isometrically contract to prevent your spine from bending sideways, also known as anti-lateral flexion.

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As an athlete—or fit individual—this is a critical skill. Your lumbar spine, located in your lower back, is designed for stability, not mobility. Repeatedly moving the vertebrae in ways they aren't designed to handle may cause back pain and ultimately lead to an injury, such as a herniated disc.

Although there's no moving in the Side Plank, it increases your durability and makes you a better athlete. A more stable and stiffer core is better able to transfer energy between your lower and upper body. You'll be more powerful in skills such as throwing a ball, you'll have better balance and you'll be harder to knock off the ball and more efficient when moving around the field, thanks to having better control of your body.

And yes, Side Planks will improve the looks of your obliques if that's what you're going for.

The exercise may seem quite simple, like the Plank, but a few common mistakes can reduce the effectiveness of this fantastic exercise.

Mistake 1: Your Torso Isn't Perpendicular to the Ground

When you set up for a Side Plank, be aware of your body position. Stack your shoulders one on top of the other, and keep your chest perpendicular to the ground. Maintain this position throughout the set.

Mistake 2: Your Hips Sag Down

In a traditional Plank, the lower back often sags. The Side Plank is similar, but the hips are the culprit. Sagging hips indicate that your core isn't doing its job of keeping your spine straight. Tighten your core as if bracing for a punch and drive your hips up into the air. Draw an imaginary line straight through the center of your body from head to toe.

Mistake 3: Not Engaging Your Glutes and Quads

It's possible to hold a Side Plank without engaging your lower body. However, it's not as challenging, and your hips may shift back out of alignment with your body. Just as you tighten your abs to raise your hips, also contract your glutes and quads.

Mistake 4: Using an Extended Lower Arm Too Soon

An elevated Side Plank is very difficult if you don't have sufficient shoulder stability. This can put your shoulder at risk and ruin the technique in your Side Plank, because you'll be so focused on not falling over. Start slow with your elbow on the floor and gradually progress to more advanced variations.

Side Plank Variations

Below are six Side Plank variations in order of increasing difficulty. Your current core strength will determine how long or for how many reps you can perform these moves. As a general guideline, start with 3 sets of 30 seconds or 10 reps.

1. Bent-Knee Side Plank

Bent-Knee Side Plank

  • Lie on your side with your bottom elbow on the ground underneath your shoulder and your forearm perpendicular to your body.
  • Bend your knees to 90 degrees and stack your feet on top of each other.
  • Place your top hand on your hip.
  • Drive your hips up to form a straight line with your body from head to knees. Tighten your abs, glutes and quads.
  • Hold this position. Repeat on your opposite side.

2. Side Plank

Side Plank

  • Lie on your side with your bottom elbow on the ground underneath your shoulder and your forearm perpendicular to your body.
  • Position your top foot on the ground in front of your bottom foot.
  • Place your top hand on your hip.
  • Drive your hips up to form a straight line with your body from head to toe.
  • Tighten your abs, glutes and quads.
  • Hold this position. Repeat on your opposite side.

3. Elevated Side Plank

Elevated Side Plank

  • Lie on your side with your bottom hand on the ground underneath your shoulder.
  • Position your top foot on the ground in front of your bottom foot.
  • Place your top hand on your hip.
  • Drive your hips up to form a straight line with your body from head to toe.
  • Tighten your abs, glutes and quads.
  • Hold this position. Repeat on your opposite side.

4. Side Plank With Leg Lift

Side Plank With Leg Lift

  • Lie on your side with your bottom elbow on the ground underneath your shoulder and your forearm perpendicular to your body.
  • Stack your feet together and place your top hand on your hip.
  • Drive your hips up to form a straight line with your body from head to toe.
  • Tighten your abs, glutes and quads.
  • Raise your top leg into the air as far as range of motion allows.
  • Hold this position. Repeat on your opposite side.

5. Side Plank Knee to Elbow Crunch

Side Plank Knee to Elbow Crunch

  • Lie on your side with your bottom elbow on the ground underneath your shoulder and your forearm perpendicular to your body.
  • Stack your feet together and place your top hand on your hip.
  • Drive your hips up to form a straight line with your body from head to toe.
  • Tighten your abs, glutes and quads.
  • Raise your top leg into the air as far as range of motion allows and extend your top arm overhead.
  • Bring your top knee to your top elbow without moving your torso.
  • Extend your leg and arm to return to the starting position.
  • Perform 10 reps. Repeat on your opposite side.

6. Side Plank Rotations

Side Plank Rotations

  • Lie on your side with your bottom elbow on the ground underneath your shoulder and your forearm perpendicular to your body.
  • Position your top foot on the ground in front of your bottom foot.
  • Raise your top arm vertically to form a T with your upper body.
  • Drive your hips up to form a straight line with your body from head to toe.
  • Tighten your abs, glutes and quads.
  • Keeping your core tight, rotate your torso and place your opposite elbow on the ground to assume a Side Plank position on your opposite side.
  • Continue in an alternating fashion.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: QUADS | CORE | PLANK | EXERCISE | SPINE