How to do a side plank correctly, according to a trainer

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This core move will set your obliques on fire. Fitness trainer Emma Obayuvana explains how to do a side plank for maximum results. 

There are only so many burpees and press-ups you can do in your at-home workouts before getting bored, right? So if you’re feeling restless with your lockdown training, it’s time to switch it up. That means trying out new variations of your favourite moves.

Planks are a great place to start. A popular move in yoga and strength training alike, they work your entire core which pays off in almost every workout. If you’ve already nailed your plank holds, side planks are a great exercise to alternate with. 

“I like to play with different shapes in my plank so that I’m dynamically challenged. It’s also not as boring, so you’ll keep going for longer and you’re hitting different muscle groups in your abdomen,” says Strong Women ambassador Emma Obayuvana

Are side planks effective?

Doing a side plank will train different skills in your body, because holding the posture doesn’t only require strength but also balance. “You’re not only working on the muscles themselves, but you’re also working on your core stability,” says Emma. 

Recent research goes even further, showing how side planks can improve spine curvatures and scoliosis. The study, published in the Global Advances in Health and Medicine journal, prescribed side plank practice to 25 patients which resulted in a 32% improvement in the scoliotic curve. 

What muscles does a side plank work?

  • Obliques
  • Core
  • Shoulders
  • Upper back
Diastasis recti: you'll need to give core moves like this a miss while your injury heals
Diastasis recti: you'll need to give core moves like this a miss while your injury heals

What mistakes do people make with the side plank?

The way to get the most out of the side plank is to really engage every muscle, but often people let their body collapse down towards the floor. “To stop that, you want to think about creating space between the side of your body and the floor itself. So really push yourself away from the floor and make sure you’re not collapsing into shoulder,” says Emma. If you could see a bird’s eye view of the perfect side plank, you would see a pin straight line from your head to your toes. 

Another error in side planks is trying to push yourself too hard too fast. You could have the strongest obliques in the world, but if your balance is off then you won’t be able to hold this move off the bat. Pushing yourself into attempt the ‘stacked feet’ version and falling over after 10 seconds won’t fire up the obliques, as they won’t be under tension for long enough. Instead, place both feet in the floor in a staggered stance while you get used to stabilising in the exercise so you can hold the posture for longer and fatigue the core. 

Finally, don’t arch your spine. This is a rule that goes for most exercises, but it’s an important reminder. We don’t want to put extra pressure through the back as this can result in pain and injury. 

How to do a side plank?

  1. Place the bottom hand onto the floor, distributing weight evenly between all of the fingers. Keep the arm straight as you push up into the side plank.
  2. Either stack both feet on top of each other, place both feet on the floor in a slightly staggered stance or bend the bottom leg so the knee rests on the floor while keeping the top leg straight and off the ground.
  3. Push up through your obliques into the side plank position. Actively lift through the side of your body as you continue to hold.
  4. Make sure that your chest is open, shoulders are back, you’re squeezing your shoulder blades together and the upper back is engaged.
  5. Hold until you can’t hold anyore, then repeat two more times for a core strengthening sequence. 

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).