How to Do Side Planks: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn how to do side planks to help improve core, hip, and shoulder strength, plus modifications to make it easier or harder.

Published Date: Apr 28, 2023

Looking for an exercise that gives you more “bang for your buck” and works multiple muscle groups all at once? Enter the side plank. Side planks are a simple yet effective exercise that can help you develop a strong, stable core while also strengthening your glutes, hips, and shoulders. This not only helps to reduce musculoskeletal pain in these areas, but it can also prevent pain in the first place.  

Whether you're a fitness enthusiast looking to spice up your workout routine or a beginner trying to establish a solid foundation of fitness, incorporating side planks into your exercise routine can have a significant impact on your health and well-being.

Here, learn about the benefits of side planks and why you might benefit from incorporating them into your exercise routine. Plus, learn how to do a side plank and modify it to suit your needs. 

Our Hinge Health Experts

Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

What Is a Side Plank?

A side plank is a bodyweight exercise that targets several muscle groups, most notably the core. It’s performed similarly to a standard plank, but involves balancing on one foot and arm as you keep your body in a straight line, instead of planking with both arms and feet on the ground. Just like with standard planks, you can easily modify side planks to make them easier or harder. 

What Muscles Do Side Planks Work?

Side planks help strengthen the core, hip, and shoulder muscles. More specifically, they target: 

  • Obliques, which run along the sides of the torso. These are the primary muscles engaged during a side plank. Side planks activate both the internal and external obliques, which help to stabilize the spine and pelvis. They also help you rotate your body in everyday activities.  

  • Glutes, or buttock muscles, play a very important role in hip and spine stability. Lack of glute strength may cause other muscles, such as the hip flexors and lower back muscles, to become strained because they have to compensate for the glutes. 

  • Hips, including the hip flexors and hip abductors, are responsible for a wide range of everyday movements, including walking, running, and jumping. Strengthening the hips can improve your movement mechanics (how you move during different activities) and reduce strain on other joints, such as your knees and low back

  • Shoulders, particularly the rotator cuff muscles and the muscles that stabilize the scapulae (shoulder blades), benefit from side planks. Good shoulder strength helps prevent and reduce pain during activities like lifting objects overhead.  

Side Plank Benefits

Side planks engage a lot of different muscle groups, which means they can offer a lot of different benefits. First, side planks are great for strengthening the core, which is involved in almost everything you do (think: lifting, carrying, squatting to pick something up, and just shifting your weight from one foot to the other). They can also help to strengthen the muscles of the lower back and hips, which helps manage and prevent pain in those areas, no matter what factors contribute to your pain.

Side planks are great for helping to improve balance and stability, which can help reduce fall risk. And lastly, they are a great exercise to improve overall fitness because they challenge both strength and endurance.

Side Plank: Exercises and Modifications 

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

Side Plank

Side Plank

Side Plank

Side Plank

To do a side plank: 

  • Lie on your side with your legs straight and your feet stacked on top of each other. (It helps to do this on a yoga mat or another soft surface.)

  • Place your forearm flat on the ground, under your shoulder. 

  • Push through your feet and forearm to lift your hips up toward the ceiling. Avoid rotating your hips. 

  • Hold this position for a few seconds, thinking about squeezing your core muscles as you do so. Try to gaze forward to help keep your neck in a neutral position. 

  • Lower yourself back to the floor and repeat a few times before switching to the other side. 

Everyone is different and it’s important to listen to your body, which is why you may need to modify side planks to meet your needs.

Side Plank Modifications

Side Plank Modifications

Side Plank Modifications

Side Plank Modifications

To make side planks easier:  

  • Do the exercise from your knees instead of your feet, pushing your knees and forearm into the ground as you lift your hips toward the ceiling.  

  • Place more padding under your forearm to cushion it if you’re having discomfort with your forearm on the floor. 

To make the side planks harder: 

  • Lift your top arm and leg into the air after raising your hips toward the ceiling and hold that position for a few seconds. (You can start by lifting either your arm or your leg in the air, and progress to lifting both simultaneously.) 

  • Place your forearm on a stability ball instead of the ground, and lift your hips into the side plank position. Since the ball is less stable than the ground, this challenges your balance and stabilizing muscles more.  

  • Add movement. With your hips in the air, move them up and down in a controlled motion, or rotate your torso toward the ground and back up. These dynamic movements will challenge your core and oblique muscles in a different way.

You can apply one of the above modifications to make the exercise easier or harder, or multiple modifications at once. 

Learn More About Hinge Health for Pain Relief  

We’ve got a full team of clinical experts to help you move past your pain. Click here to see if you’re eligible to join our free digital clinic for back and joint pain.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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  1. Plank Exercise. (n.d.). Physiopedia.

  2. Core Stability. (n.d.). Physiopedia.

  3. Try this move for better core strength. (2021, February 1). Harvard Health.