Move over plank and boat pose, today we are going to explore another core strengthener: Side Plank.
Side plank requires focus and balance. It is another pose that you will find the more you engage your muscles, the lighter you will feel. This pose works the deep core muscles of transverse abdominis, the oblique muscles, (they run along the sides of your abdomen), gluteus medius and minimus (the abductors and adductors in your hips) while also requiring strength and stability from the muscles in your arm, shoulder, wrist. It is important to warm up before performing side plank.
Warm-up might include some cat-cows, some wrist stretches, a dynamic thread-the-needle, planks and downward facing dogs, and a couple of sun salutations. Perhaps even practice boat pose, and hamstring openers like pyramid, or triangle if you plan to try the fullest expression of the pose described below.
If you have done side plank before, you may have heard an instructor’s cue or reminder to engage your obliques and lift the hips so that they don’t sag. Rather than merely lifting the hips, the goal here is to maintain a neutral spine from crown to tailbone. One way to think about side plank is to know that it is basically Mountain Pose leaning on its side. This will help to not overcompensate by lifting hips too high, or more commonly, allowing the top hip or shoulders to sag or rotate down toward the floor in either direction. You will also want to be aware of engaging your serratus muscles (the muscles that help stabilize your scapula or shoulder blade) and relaxing and lengthening the trapezius muscles, making space between your shoulder and ear just as in mountain pose.
This is a fun and challenging pose, so let’s get started!
From downward-facing dog, shift your weight onto your left hand (wrist slightly in front of the shoulder) and roll to the outer edge of your flexed left foot. From there, stack your right foot on top of your left, or modify the pose by bending the right knee and placing the right foot in front of the left for more stability. Place your top (right) hand on your hip to begin. The tips of your left fingers and wrist crease should be parallel with the top edge of your mat; and the “smile” of your left elbow pointing in the same direction as your left thumb. Keep your left arm strong and straight, by engaging your triceps, but take care not to hyperextend your elbow by keeping a smidge of softness there. Stack your shoulders and push the floor away by pressing into the base of fingers and fingertips to protect the wrist, and avoid collapsing into your bottom shoulder. Engage your thighs and obliques, while you lengthen the tailbone towards heels and push through the bottoms of your feet, keeping hips also stacked. If you feel stable, you can extend your right arm up or alongside your ear. Gaze can remain straight ahead or up toward the lifted arm. Just as you do in Mountain pose, remain aware of your posture, tuck the chin slightly, draw your head and ears so they are in line with your shoulders and lengthen through the crown of your head.
Take your time coming back to center and to downward-facing dog, and repeat on the other side. When you are done, rest in Child’s pose.
Here are a few final tips for side plank:
Try this with the soles of the feet against the wall, sending energy through your feet just as you do in Mountain pose.
Other modification options: take a kneeling side plank with your bottom knee on the floor and your top leg extended. Or, you can take side plank on your forearm, by coming through a forearm plank rather than on an extended arm, taking the load off the wrist. These modifications are recommended for those with wrist and/or shoulder injuries. ****
Or, to add intensity: lift the top leg up into the air. For even more, bend the top knee, and draw the thigh into the chest as you exhale. Grab the big toe by wrapping index, middle fingers and thumb around the big toe. Inhale, and stretch the leg up. Hold for a few breaths and then release, drawing the knee back into the chest before extending the leg to meet the bottom leg. Come back to a downward-facing dog and repeat on the other side.
Here are a few scriptures to help you to hold steady in your side plank, remember to think “sideways mountain pose” and to keep your eyes on Jesus whose love for us never changes.
Psalm 46:2-3 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;
Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.
For the mountains may move and the hills disappear, but even then my faithful love for you will remain. My covenant of blessing will never be broken,” says the LORD, who has mercy on you.
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