By Cori Christmann
What is it about side planks that makes them so hard! If you’ve ever done them in your workout, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Whether you do them on the ground or with your feet in TRX straps, they are one of the most challenging exercises there is. Thankfully, there are several great modifications you can do to help make the side plank more or less challenging as you work up your strength and endurance.
In the Saddle
Side planks are great for riders because they activate the quadratus lumborum, a muscle deep inside your lower core that is used to stabilize the pelvis from left to right. Teaching this muscle to withstand engagement for an extended period of time off your horse will help keep you square and stable in the tack.
If one side of the obliques is stronger than the other, the hips will be negatively affected, causing the rider to either lean off balance or to pull the hip upward, lightening that side of a rider’s seat. A horse will compensate or feel that the rider is telling them to go lateral or drift.
Exercise: Off the Horse
Before you get up into a side plank, lay on your side and check that your body is aligned. There should be a straight line from your feet to your shoulders, with both joints “stacked” over one another.
This position will help ensure that your side plank is straight and square. This is key because if your feet are too far forward or back in relation to your upper body, you may find that the side plank causes pain or strain in your low back. Place the top foot on the floor in front of bottom foot to prevent any lower back twisting if you feel any strain stacking the feet on top of one another.
Exercise: Off the Horse
Side Plank on Hand/Elbow
The first option for doing a side plank is on your hand or forearm. You can also position your feet staggered one in front of the other (top leg in front), or stacked on top of each other.
Challenge: Step it up by raising your top leg into the star position! This one will really challenge your balance. As for your free arm on top, put it on your hip or hold it straight up in the air.
Take It to the Next Level
TRX Side Plank
Try doing your side planks with your feet in the TRX straps. (This is not recommended for athletes who have lower back pain or injuries. Make sure you can do a side plank on the floor correctly before attempting the feet in the TRX straps.)
Position the top leg in front of the bottom one and be sure you are aligned nice and straight on the ground before you push up on your forearm or hand. Hold for 30 seconds each side.
Challenge: Hold a weight in your top hand, reach down to ground for floor touches and then raise the weight back up to the sky or ceiling. Keep hips high and stable while rotating.
Extra Challenge: Reach under the grounded arm in the side plank with or without weights. Try to do this without the feet in TRX straps first and then in TRX straps with no weight in your hand until you get your balance. Finally, grab a 3-8 pound free weight and reach through in the side plank 5-8 times each side.
Main article photo: Canstock/Fizkes