If you've ever hurt your low back before and gotten yourself sent off to physical therapy, you know what a lifesaver side planks can be.

A large predictor of injury is the presence of imbalances in the body, either front to back or side to side. Side planks can help strengthen the weak link in your kinetic chain and make your body more resilient. Added bonus: a set of beach ready obliques just in time for summer.

But after you can hold a side plank for a full minute, then what? Anyone who has ever done a 5 minute plank can tell you one thing about them: they aren't fun at all.

Here are 3 ways you can advance your side plank to take an extremely functional fitness exercise to the next level.

Goal: Ultimate Core and Back Stability

Exercise: TRX Side Plank with Scissor

By adding in the instability of a suspension trainer like the TRX, you can increase the 'wobble' factor, and thereby increase the activity of the stabilizer muscles of the deep core and hip complex. Once you can overcome the initial shakes that come with adding in a suspension element, the scissor move provides an added challenge of keeping a consistent amount of pressure in each foot as your move your body through space.

This requires the activation of both the internal and external obliques, trasverse abdominus, glute medius, and quads, which when working together can provide a tremendous amount of total core stability.

To Do It:

  1. Put your toes into a TRX suspension trainer and turn on to your side with your top foot barely in front of your bottom foot.
  2. Put your elbow (or hand) on the ground and dive your hips into the air until your whole body is level.
  3. Keep the hips at the same level as you scissor your feet apart for 2 seconds, then bring them back together over 2 seconds.
  4. Repeat x 10-15 reps on each side.

Goal: Oblique Development

Exercise: Thai Crunch

By holding a side plank and adding in a contraction on the opposite side, you get more benefit than just doing side crunches. For one, there's less shear forces on the spine because you're forced to hold a strong spinal position the entire time, and you get the effect of holding a single leg side plank at the same time.

To Do It:

  1. Get in a side plank position with hand or elbow on the ground. Drive your bottom food into the ground, with most of the pressure going on the heel side.
  2. Put your top hand behind your head, and slowly bring the elbow of that hand to the knee of the top leg by activating the obliques.
  3. Return to the starting position. Repeat x 10 each side.

Goal: Athletic Improvement

Exercise: Side Plank with Row

Being an athlete means you have to be prepared for any type of movement. Changing position quickly, transferring velocity through different planes of movement, all while stabilizing your body enough to to be able to produce power when necessary.

A side plank with a row works in both the frontal plane (side to side), and the sagittal plane (front to back). By stabilizing the core when having an outside force applied to it, you can train the same way you play.

To Do It:

  1. Set up about 4 feet away from a low cable machine. Set up your side plank, then grab the handle. While stabilizing your body and not letting yourself rock forward or backwards, row the cable back.
  2. Focus on driving the elbow back, but at the same time, pulling the wrist to your hip, so that the elbow is at an obtuse (wider than 90 degree) angle. This will bring more of your lat into play than if you just pulled the elbow straight back, which will help keep the shoulder healthy.
  3. Repeat x 10-15 on each side.

Side planks are a great exercise for recovery, stability, physique change, and building total body control. Use these tips and upgrade your side planks to fit your goals.

About the Author: Nate has an old-school, strength-first philosophy that he applies to himself and his clients, and he believes that getting stronger mentally and physically will cause a trickle-down effect into the rest of your life that will provide unbelievable benefits. Nate is a husband, coach, writer, self-proclaimed bio-hacker, and adventurer, and now spends his time coaching clients online and writing on his blog, N8 TrainingSystems.

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