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Yoga is a meditative form of exercise meant to strengthen the body and focus the mind. Many poses focus on carefully working the whole body as a means of improving overall strength, posture, and flexibility. The side plank is a simple, though difficult yoga pose used to tone and focus on the core of the body, particularly the abdominal and back muscles.
To perform a basic side plank, lie on one side with legs stacked on top of one another and feet flexed. The bottom forearm should be resting on the ground, so that the weight of the upper body will rest on a strong base during the exercise. Tightening ab, back and leg muscles, lift the body up starting with the hips, so that the bottom foot and forearm are the only parts contacting the ground. Hold this position, remembering to breathe deeply throughout the exercise. Repeat on the opposite side for even toning.
Although the exercise is simple, attention to form and posture is required to ensure the maximum benefit from the side plank pose. In addition to maintaining a flexed position in the feet, care should be taken to ensure that the core is held correctly. In yoga, core exercises are often enhanced by flexing the abs during each exercise, usually by constantly pulling the navel toward the spine to ensure that the abdominal muscles are engaged. Additionally, make sure that the body is held in one straight line, from feet to head, taking care to prevent the head, core, or legs from sagging down during the pose. Performing this exercise in front of a mirror may help improve position overall.
Variations to a basic side plank can be added to help increase the difficulty of the exercise. More advanced practitioners will straighten their bottom arm entirely, so that the weight of the upper body is held on the hand, rather than the fore arm. To increase upper body strength even more, the upper arm can be stretched straight up, so that the arms make a perfect vertical line from the floor up toward the sky.
For truly advanced yoga practitioners, the move can be made even more difficult. With bottom arm fully extended, bend the upper knee and grab the toes with the upper arm. Try to straighten the upper leg, turning the body slightly and opening the chest toward the ceiling. Be certain to keep the head up during this variation, and be very careful. Although this is an excellent variation of the side plank, it can be dangerous for beginners and can easily result in injury if the body is not properly aligned.
The side plank can be performed several ways to benefit the body. Some people like to hold the pose on each side for as long as possible, performing it only once on each side. Others prefer to do repetitions of side plank exercises, combining them with other yoga moves such as full plank and as part of sun salutations. Regardless of style, it is important to start slowly and focus on posture and alignment rather than time the position is held or amount of repetitions performed. Doing a side plank in the correct position for five seconds will likely improve strength faster than doing it in the wrong position for twenty seconds.