5 Side Plank Mistakes That Make the Move Ineffective (and Potentially Painful)

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The side plank is a great core exercise — unless you're making these errors.
Image Credit: Nastasic/E+/GettyImages

Side planks aren't usually at the top of people's list of favorite exercises. But if you've already committed time, effort and willpower to adding them to your workout, you'll want to make sure you're doing them properly.

Unfortunately, there are some fairly common mistakes that can make the exercise way less effective and ultimately, a waste of your time. So if you're trying a plank challenge or incorporating side planks into your regular workout routine, get the move right and avoid these five errors.

How to Do a Side Plank

Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Core
  1. Start lying on your side, propped up on your bottom forearm. Your elbow should be directly under your shoulder to avoid putting too much pressure on the joint. Your legs should be extended straight out with your feet stacked one on top of the other.
  2. Lift your hips off the ground. Make sure that your hips are pushed forward so that your butt isn't sticking out behind your. The goal is to be as straight as possible from heels to hips to head.
  3. Hold this position for as long as you can with good form.

1. Allowing Your Hips to Drop

As with a standard plank, you should avoid sagging your hips toward the ground while holding a side plank. The main benefit of doing planks is to strengthen your core, but you're missing out on the full potential of the move when you don't keep your hips elevated.

And specifically with a side plank, you want to target your obliques. When you focus on those muscles at the sides of your torso and think about actively lifting your hips, you make the move that much more effective.

Fix It

"Think about keeping the bottom hip high off the ground," says Sam Becourtney, physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York. "Sometimes, using a foam roller or yoga block beneath the bottom hip can give an external cue so that you have a goal to keep the bottom leg at least that high so it's elevated off of the roller/block."

2. Not Holding Your Head and Neck in Alignment

As you start to fatigue while holding a side plank, you may start to jut your head forward, drop it down toward the ground or turn it to look up at the ceiling.

Unfortunately, these little form deviations can cause some big problems. Letting your head and neck come out of alignment with the rest of your body can cause neck strain or irritation to the surrounding muscles, including your trapezius, Becourtney says. Over time, this can cause pain in the area — or even lead to injury.

Fix It

As you hold your side plank, think about your spine as one long piece of rope from your tailbone to the base of your skull, Becourtney says. The goal is to keep this rope taught, which will entail bringing your head and neck up or even tucking the chin to restore proper alignment.

3. Putting Too Much Pressure on Your Bottom Foot

If you're doing your side plank properly, your feet should be stacked, balancing on the outer part of your bottom foot. While a good deal of your weight will balance on the outside edge of your bottom foot, you don't want to add too much pressure, as that can cause foot and ankle pain, Becourtney says.

But what exactly qualifies as too much pressure? If you're feeling your outer foot dig into the ground or are struggling to keep the lower leg up, you're probably placing too much weight in the outer foot.

Fix It

Wear shoes when you're working on your side plank. Think about pushing the sole of your lower foot toward the ground so the corner of your shoe is digging into the ground, rather than your foot.

4. Arching Your Lower Back

As mentioned above, you want your body to be in one straight line. But as you start to grow tired or shaky, it's common to start arching the lower back. This can strain your back muscles, ultimately leading to pain.

Plus, overarching or rounding your back takes away from the core-strengthening potential of the exercise, since it moves the work from your abdominals to your lower back.

Fix It

Keep your ribcage stacked over your pelvis. Think about pulling your belly button toward your spine, Becourtney says. "Keeping these ideas in your head will keep this alignment."

5. Placing Your Elbow Too Far From Your Body

Another common mistake Becourtney sees is improper elbow placement. Often, people position the elbow too far away from the body in an effort to get more balance in the pose. Or, if you're doing a high side plank, you may be placing your bottom hand too far away.

This puts unnecessary stress on your elbow and shoulder (or hand and wrist). As a result, you rely on your arm to balance and hold the body, rather than your obliques.

Fix It

Before you lift up into your side plank, take time to make sure you place your hand or elbow directly beneath your shoulder. "Think about pushing the ground away to utilize some of the larger, stronger shoulder muscles," Becourtney says. Also, try alternating between a side plank on the elbows and hand to prevent too much stress on any one joint.

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