The Side Plank is a legitimate exercise to help improve core strength in the frontal plane. When done correctly, it is a great movement. More often than not, form is sub-par and can place the athlete or client at an increased risk for injury and/or decrease the effectiveness of the exercise.
Common mistakes that are seen with the side plank are:
Lateral Flexion of the Spine
Hips too Low
Poor Shoulder Position
If someone performs a side plank with these technique flaws, their back and/or shoulder will not become instantly injured. Over time, these technical flaws will have a tendency to creep up and eventually cause issues at the low back, shoulder, or some other adjacent joint.
Let’s dive into those mistakes and how to fix them!
Lateral Spine Flexion
Setting up in a poor position can cause the athlete to perform the exercise poorly. This is true with the side plank. Far too often, athletes will prop straight up into a side plank from the floor.
Even though the end position of the side plank may be great, the fact that the athlete went through lateral lumbar flexion to get there isn’t the best idea. I am not saying that spinal movement is bad. Spinal movement is good. Repetitively flexing the spine over time and/or under load is not good.
Instead of laterally flexing through the spine, try hinging through the hips!
By hinging through the hips and maintaining a neutral spine, this provides more benefit and less risk while doing the exercise. Plus, it forces the athlete to have to maintain a neutral spine during movement (going from the floor to the finished position).
Hips Too Low
Another area that can be an issue is when someone is maintaining a side plank position and their hips are too low or are below the mid-line of the body.
As stated before, this can place increased stress on the lumbar spine and adjacent structures. One purpose of core strengthening exercises is to make the core stronger. By allowing the hips to drop lower than they should be, this is decreasing the effectiveness of the exercise.
So, to determine if you are too low or not, you can videotape your side planks using an Iphone. You can also use a mirror at the gym to make sure that you are in alignment with the rest of your body.
You can also place a dumbbell under your down-side hip.
By doing this, if you drop too low, you will feel the dumbbell pushing into your hip telling you that you are out of position.
Poor Shoulder Position
Last, the one area that most people don’t think of when it comes to side planks is the shoulder. The shoulder is a key component to the position and control of the side plank. Often times, athletes will get out of position and allow their shoulder to “dump forward” or go into anterior humeral translation.
By doing this, it is similar when someone is doing a 1-arm row or dumbbell benching and allowing their elbows to go too far back.
This position in either the 1-arm row or side plank can cause irritation of the labrum, biceps tendon, rotator cuff, etc. Since it is loaded via body weight in a side plank, it can accelerate those issues.
Even if someone doesn’t have pain in this position, it can create faulty movement patterns and teach the athlete an improper way to stabilize at the shoulder.
To help clean that up, we want to make sure the shoulder and elbow are in alignment vertically with one being on top of the other. As well as the elbow and shoulder being in alignment with the rest of the body at the finished position of the side plank.
One way to help an athlete maintain the proper position is to instruct them to keep their shoulder “down and back” as also instructed during rowing variations. It does not have to be an aggressive “down and back”, but a small movement of the scapulae to get into a better position.
Another way to help an athlete is by using their other hand and placing it on the front of the shoulder to ensure that there shoulder remains in a good position. If their shoulder is out of position, they will feel it via their hand.
If you or your clients are having trouble performing side planks with proper technique, try implementing some of these cues to clean up their technique.
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