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Do Your Side Planks Suck? Fix Them Now!

Side Planks are the bee’s knees.


For starters… you can do them anywhere and they’re excellent for oblique activation, hip stability, and training the frontal plane which is often overlooked in a lot of strength programs.

The catch?

It’s easy to complete this exercise without actually using the right muscles.

I often hear people complain about how hard their shoulders and low back feel like they’re working when doing side planks, and how they feel like they have ZERO oblique activation. If you’re one of those people, and want to learn the importance of strong internal and external obliques, read this and know that there is a solution to this problem. All it takes is a few quick tweaks to get the right muscles firing.


Fix for Fatiguing Shoulders (During Side Planks)

If you feel like you’re primarily fatiguing in your shoulders when side planking, you might be overusing your shoulders to leverage your body’s weight, rather than using your obliques.

The fix?

Instead of displacing all of your weight on your arm, keep your shoulder packed and try to evenly displace the load between your shoulder and your knee or ankle. That way, the effort of the exercise becomes centred between the points of contact – allowing your obliques to do their job.


Fix for Low Back Pain (During Side Planks)

If you feel like your lower back is the primary area working during your side planks, your obliques are not functioning at an optimal level and are thus not helping to stabilize your body. The easiest way to correct this is to incorporate diaphragmatic breathing and full exhalations into your side planks.

How do you do this?

As you exhale fully, your ribcage gets pulled into internal rotation (down and in) which will significantly increase muscle EMG activation of your obliques.

Here’s a quick tutorial of what this looks like during a side plank, targeting your obliques.

The forward position of your torso during this style of side plank is actually beneficial for maximal contraction of your obliques.

Once you can easily find your obliques, and are no longer compensating through your shoulder or low back, you can work towards fully extending your hips and trying the progressions below…


Side Plank with Rotation

*Can be completed from knees or ankles


Side Plank Knee to Elbow 1.0


Side Plank Knee to Elbow 2.0

If you feel this is something you need to work on, but are hindered by shoulder or neck issues, try a 1/2 kneeling pallof press and apply the same breathing principles.

Remember, the most important part of any of these drills is good diaphragmatic breathing paired with rib depression and internal rotation. If you’re new to breathing practice and would like to learn more, check out this post!

You can also schedule an assessment with myself or one of the other trainers here at BIM.

Here’s to a stronger core!





McGill SM, Karpowicz A. (2009). Exercises for spine stabilization: motion/motor patterns, stability progressions, and clinical technique.90 (1): 118-126.


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