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Side Plank - from beginning to end

Side Plank Part I: The foundation of table top and activating your abdominals:

Get the Foundation by starting in table top. Hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Your gaze is down and your spine is holding its natural curve. You should feel your spine lengthening in opposite directions; the crown of your head is one direction and your tail the other. Your abdominals are active and your body is not collapsing on to your hands and knees.

Correct table top. Hands in line with shoulders and knees in line with hips. Natural spinal curve (no tucking of pelvis or sway of spine)

Now push your weight slightly back so that you feel your glutes lengthen and turn on. When you shift back: your abdominals will most likely turn off (especially your lower abdominals) you may feel more weight on your wrists and shoulders.

Incorrect table top. Hands not in line with shoulders and knees not in line with hips.

When you shift your weight back, your body has shifted out of alignment and the foundation is no longer stable. A lot of pressure is on the wrists and shoulders, because your ‘table legs’ are no longer stacked under your ‘table top’. This awareness of misalignment is key to building a strong side plank. You need your abdominals to fire and you need your hand/wrists in alignment with your shoulder.

Read my blog entry The importance of hands in Exercises/Yoga/Pilates category on how to activate your hands.

Something to note in regards to hands: In table top, depending on how your body is designed, wrists can experience skeletal compression. If this is an uncomfortable pose for you please explore some of the following variations:

  • come into fists, making sure your fists are in line with your wrists

  • you can use yoga wedges under hands

  • you can use blocks to support you under your forearms, BUT make sure the height is adjusted correctly (as if your hand were down) and that the blocks are stable enough so you can open into modified side plank

Moving to Balancing Cat – get the feeling of abdominal activation

Keep the foundation of table top and extend your Right leg behind you (keep it in line with you back) and extend your Left arm in front of you as if you were reaching for a handshake. You are now in Balancing Cat. Feel your abdominals fire in efforts to stabilize your body and feel the strength of your raised leg (front and back). Feel yourself lifting off of your foundation and lengthening. Use the ‘standing’ hand to push the ground away and don’t dump/collapse into the ‘standing’ hip.

Side Plank Part II: Moving to Modified Side Plank– get the feeling of lifting off the ground Modified side plank isn’t one of my favorites, because it does require a lot of external hip rotation, and some people find that challenging. However, I have yet to find another suitable side plank beginner version, so while doing this pose just note that your side abdominals and external hip muscles will activate more when you move to full side plank.

Return to table top. Before opening up to the side, if you are not quite there with your balance and especially if your hips are having a hard time externally rotating, use the bottom shin as a kick stand.

As you open up to the side, imagine that you are reaching for something overhead and remember to lift off the ground. Both hands and arms are active. Your top toe can stay on floor to help with balance or that leg can be lifted to add more challenge to the pose.

While in Modified Side Plank: Continue to check that your arm is in line with your shoulder and that your weight didn’t shift back. Again, alignment is a key element to get the muscles to work together correctly.

Using the wall in Modified Side Plank: A wall is a great prop to use in this pose. It helps if we have fear of falling over or if we just need that extra support. By using the wall we get some of our weight supported, but you can still feel the benefit of the opening that this pose offers. Try and get your body as close to the wall as you can, so that you are still actively pushing yourself off of the ground vs. leaning back into the wall. We want to still encourage that proper alignment.

Side Plank Part III: Moving into Side Plank Start on your side with legs extended, right hip on the floor and right forearm on the floor (elbow in line with shoulder). Exhale, engage abdominals and lift up off your right hip. Hold your position and then release when ready.

This is a challenging move. But remember what it feels like, because you will need to activate the side and front abdominals in a similar way to experience the same ‘lifting feeling’ when you are in side plank. When you feel comfortable on both sides, move on.

If you need help:

- use top arm to press into floor

- keep bottom knee down

But don't move on to the next progression until you don't need this extra help

start position
end position

Ready for side plank? Start in plank. Feel your heels drawing away from the crown of your head and your abdominals firing to keep your hips in line with your ribs (not raised). Hands are directly under your shoulders.

Variation: Come to your forearms vs hands if wrists are an issue. Align elbows under shoulders.

Without lifting your hips, shift your weight to the side, stacking your hips and open to side plank. Remember standing hand/arm and lifted hand/arm are active.

Yay! You made it to Side Plank, one of my favorite poses! Enjoy!

Want a short sequence? Go to the blog Side Plank Sequence


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