Get Serious about the Side Plank

If you have ever been to one of my Group or Online Fitness classes you have absolutely been introduced to one of my favorite CORE exercises and a fundamental Yoga Pose – The Side Plank (Yoga Sanskrit – Vashistasana)! I like to throw it in during my warm up, work out, or even the wind down for that extra challenge. If there is a common weakness in the general population or the classic “exercise enthusiast,” it is the CORE! Sit ups and crunches are typically the “go-to” exercises we choose to strengthen the core, but sadly, these have been proven to be highly ineffective for core strengthening. Not only ineffective, but actually can contribute to neck and back injuries! The misconception of the “CORE” derives from a lack of understanding what muscles are involved and what actions they do. To understand what makes up the muscles of the core, I ask, does it help me keep the spine in neutral? But what is spinal neutral exactly? Spinal neutral is the balance between the movements of the spine (flexion/extension, sidebending, and rotation), and the pelvis (anterior and posterior rotation). So, any muscle that is involved in maintaining neutral spine is a core muscle!

Maintaining spinal neutral is HARD WORK! Finding spinal neutral, involves understanding how the spine moves. Spinal flexion is forward movement of the spine on the pelvis (as in doing a sit up or crunch), spinal extension is backward movement of the spine on the pelvis (as in doing ‘up dog’ or cobra yoga pose), spinal rotation is movement around the axis of the spine on the pelvis (as in doing russian twists), and side bending is movement towards to side (as in doing side crunches over a stability ball). These classic abdominal exercises contribute to strengthening the abdominal muscles but do not contribute to stabilization. The best way to achieve spinal stabilization is strengthening without spinal movement. Imagine holding a suitcase or a baby on the right side. Naturally, the body will want to dip towards the right as the weight pulls towards that side. The opposition of that force will be the muscle of the trunk on the opposite side, as well as the legs and hips, and even the lower legs and feet. There is no such thing as an exercise that works only one muscle group, so in this case, the entire body will work together to hold neutral. That is core stability!

Although the core is made up of our entire body, to be more specific, the most important muscles involved are:

1) The Abdominals, which are made up of the Rectus and Transverse Abdominis and the Extrenal and Internal Obliques, classically referred to as “The Six Pack.”

2) The Back Extensors, which are muscles along the spinal cord that promote extension (lengthening) of the spine.

3) The Glutes/Hip Abductors, which are the muscles in the butt and hips that promote stability in the knees/ankles with walking, running, sports, and exercise. MY FAVORITE!


The reason I choose to incorporate a high volume of sideplanks into my classes is because this is a classic core stabilization exercise! It targets all 3 major aspects of the core while contributing to spinal neutral. Additional benefits such as shoulder and knee stabilization also help to achieve spinal neutral.  If you are still crunching away, STOP NOW, and try 3-5 sets of 20-30seconds of a side plank for more effective, long term results. If you cannot perform with feet stacked, try dropping the bottom knee as a modification to build strength to eventually work your way up to your feet. Remember its SMART to take modifications in order to prevent injury and build a solid foundation. Regress before your progress! Enjoy!


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