Ok let’s talk about how to fix your side plank and make it super strong and stable! If you’ve ever felt like you’re going to fall over in side plank, or like the weight of your body is enormously heavy in your arm – you’re definitely not alone. Believe it or not, this is actually a pretty easy fix for most people, and I’m going to share with you here how you can feel excited about side planks and not dread them.
If you’ve been taking class with me, you’ve probably heard me talk about the 3 zones of stability we have in our bodies. If not, no worries I’m about to explain it here.
Our bodies crave stability. It makes them feel safe, and when they feel safe, they move better. If you’re on my email list or read through my blogs, you’ve probably heard me talk about this before, and if not or if you want a refresher, you should check out this blog post here because I go more into detail about this and how it relates to flexibility.
So, what parts of our body do we draw stability from? Our shoulders, our core, and our hips are the main places that we use to stabilize us. This is true for if you’re balancing on 1 leg, or if you’re playing tennis, or if you’re skiing, walking, swimming, running…pretty much everything.
But here’s the deal. If 0 or only 1 of these 3 places is stable, our body is going to have a much harder time performing activities well, especially with things like balance. In general, you want at least 2 of these 3 zones working to stabilize you when you’re doing pretty much anything, but in this case let’s talk about it as it relates to yoga. When you understand this concept, you’ll understand literally every challenging yoga pose ever – backbends, arm balances, aaaaand of course, side planks.
Side planks actually require all 3 zones of stability to be working simultaneously, which is part of why they are so hard. If one zone’s stability breaks, then the whole thing often falls apart. So, let’s break down side plank by each zone of stability, and what you can do to find strength and stability in each zone:
Just like in a regular plank pose, if you let your shoulders collapse, it probably won’t feel very good in your shoulder joint first of all, but second of all, everything will feel super heavy becauase your arms start acting like poles that could snap holding your body up, rather than strong limbs that have muscles attached to them 😂🥴
So the same thing goes for your side plank. How do you get your arms and shoulders to engage? It’s pretty simple – just press the floor away from you, and you’ll feel your arms start to engage, as well as your the muscles on your back around your shoulder blades. Give this a try on hands and knees to feel it in an easier position first with both hands on the ground, then take it to your side planks and plank poses.
Shoulder Stability Zone ✅
Again, just like in a regular plank pose, if your hips drop, your core can’t engage to its fullest extent. In a regular plank this would land you in a backbend, but in a side plank it lands you in a side bend, which again, will be hard to find the muscles of your core.
There are a few ways to make sure you’re engaging your core. The first is to control where your rib cage is. Go ahead and take a big backbend (yes, right now as you’re reading this). Touch the bottom part of your rib cage with your hands. Do you feel how your ribs are sticking out and kind of flaring? This is what you want to AVOID in your side plank (and regular plank too). Now take your ribs a little bit in, keep your hands there so you can feel what’s going on. Basically you’re just taking the backbend out of the shape by changing the position of your rib cage 👍
So after you’ve gotten the rib cage placement, we should talk about your hips. Like I said in the beginning – if your hips drop, your core can’t engage to its best extent because you’re in a backbend. So you want to make sure your hips are lifting up towards the sky. This is usually what most people don’t do, and is the easiest and most effective fix for your side plank. How do you fix this? PRESS INTO YOUR FEET.
When you press into your feet your hips will lift and the side plank kind of clicks into place. Here’s a visual:
Once your hips are up and your rib cage isn’t flaring out, you can access your core muscles waaayyy easier.
Core Zone Stability ✅
Really the place you’re drawing stability from here is your glutes, aka your butt. This muscle is KEY for balancing in any pose. Want to stand on one leg? Make sure your glutes are working. Want to balance in a handstand? Make sure your glutes are engaging. Want to do a high lunge without falling over? GLUTES. That’s why, if you’ve taken my class before, you know that I’m super focused on bringing awareness to your hips and your glutes in the majority of my classes.
SO how do you do this in a side plank? Guess what? YOU ALREADY DID IT! When you press down into your feet you actually kill 2 birds with 1 stone – your core will land in a more optimal position, and your glutes will automatically fire to lift your hips up. Whatever leg is on the bottom part of your side plank is the glute that is working hardest to stabilize you.
Here’s a bonus tip:
Want to learn to lift your leg in your side plank? Flex your top foot and once you have these other 3 zones steady and nailed down, your top glute has to engage in order to lift your leg up. Don’t believe me? Stand up. No seriously – stand up – this is super easy, I promise.
Keep your right leg straight and your foot flexed and toes facing forwards. Hold onto something for balance, and make sure you don’t lean to the left side for this next part. Now reach your right leg out to the side. Do you feel your butt? You should. So that’s exactly what is happening when you’re in your side plank, but it’s harder because you’re adding movement to a pose that already is a struggle to find stability in, even when there aren’t moving parts like lifting a leg.
There’s one more super important component to finding the hip stability in a side plank:
A common thing I see in people’s side planks is they’ll lean forwards with their upper body and their butts will stick out behind them – basically bending at the waist. This is because they’re trying to offset the lack of stability in at least 1 of these 3 zones, and distribute their weight differently to make up for it, aka they’re compensating. When you try to lift your top leg, you’re more likely to fall if this is the position of your side plank because…you guessed it – it’s a less stable position for your 3 zones.
SO in addition to pressing down into your feet you also need to be pushing your tailbone in. This will help your glutes go into a better position to engage, just like we did with your rib cage in the core zone.
Hip Stability Zone ✅
So there you have it. That’s how you nail your next side plank!
Got questions? I want to hear ’em – leave me a comment or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let me know. Give these tips a try and also keep me posted about if you’ve found any more ease in this super challenging pose! I bet you nail it once you get these 3 zones down 💪
Till next time,