Abdominal strength is a popular topic – a significant chunk of the global population is in pursuit of the illustrious six pack. But aside from the aesthetics, there are countless physiological benefits associated with building a strong core (reduces risk of lower back pain, promotes improved posture, facilitates better motion etc.); however over the summer season, the aesthetic angle inevitably takes front seat! Through my work as a personal trainer, I encounter more and more people who, whilst becoming more health conscious (great!), still have under-developed core strength. It’s not unusual to sit in a slumped position at the desk for 9+ hours each day, which doesn’t require you to engage your core at all. As a common consequence, people develop problems with their pelvis, hips, lower back… This post is about the Side Plank, which is one of my favourite ways to train the muscular girdle around our midsections, and it’s a proper challenge against yourself! Click MORE to read about it…
For this post, I thought I’d discuss the benefits of the Side Plank, the traditional plank’s younger (but slightly more advanced) brother. The side plank is a compound movement (i.e. it recruits multiple muscles simultaneously) which is revered because it targets your entire core and hones in on the external and internal Obliques (the ‘corset’ holding you in at your waist) and the often-weak muscle ‘quadratus lumborum’ which connects the pelvis to the spine, and when seated at a computer for hours on end, is in a state of perpetual contraction, leading to reduced blood flow, fascia adhesions, back fatigue and eventually, spasm.
Regularly training these core muscles can help sculpt a defined waste and rid yourself of the dreaded ‘muffin top’, as well as rendering you more resilient against lumbar injuries. Whilst it may look easy and only relies on employing your own body weight for resistance, it’s deceptively tough, as you’re having to balance the entire bodyweight on just an elbow and a leg, whilst all the while maintaining good technique. You’ll feel the strain!
It’s also a great exercise to encourage improved endurance – how long can you hold the side-plank ensuring correct technique? If you trial this little exercise, you may find that 10-15 seconds will be your limit, but including it in your training on a regular basis and you’ll soon work your way up to 30-60 seconds holds. I’ve always thought that a 2-minute side-plank hold is the sign of a seriously developed core complex, and somewhat hold that up as the holy grail of abdominal capabilities!
As a progression, maintain the same position and slowly lift the upper leg towards the ceiling, and hold it (as per above image). It’s an added imbalance recruiting more stabilising muscles, working the core further, and even stressing the upper leg’s abductor muscles as well as the lower leg’s quads.
As a side note, in your pursuit of a flatter stomach or indeed six pack, the solution is logically simple (though requires great effort and dedication) – reduce body fat by increasing activity, whilst controlling calorie intake – abs then will begin to show definition of their own accord. Exercises can improve the shape and bulk of the muscles, but they won’t show unless the fat layer goes first. This side plank is a pretty good way to start though!
1. Start by lying on your right side. Placing your left foot on your right foot, keep your legs straight.
2. Ensure that your elbow is directly under your shoulder and slowly lift yourself up spreading your weight across your body onto your righ arm and right leg.
3. All along engage your core. Avoid pushing your hip too far forward it back. Instead aim to keep your body in line.
4. Maintain the position until failure, and then gently relax
5. Repeat for 5 cycles.
6. Pursue a session of gentle stretching after the abdominal exercises, to promote lengthened and oxygenated muscles.