How Many Side Planks Should I Do To See Results?

While regular planks and flexion/extension core strengthening and stability exercises are certainly important, in order to effectively build functional core strength, you need to train the core to not only permit—but also restrict and stabilize against—lateral flexion (side bending) and rotation.

These movements are primarily controlled and supported by the obliques, the abdominal muscles that are found on the sides of your torso.

Side planks are one of the best exercises for the obliques.

But, when planning your training sessions you may wonder, how many side planks should I do to strengthen my abs and core muscles? How long should I hold a side plank for?

In this workout guide, we will discuss how to perform side planks properly, various modifications and versions of side planks to try, and ultimately answer your question how many side planks should I do based on my training goals and fitness level?

Let’s dive in! 

People doing side planks.

How Do You Do a Side Plank?

The side plank exercise is an excellent isometric exercise for your obliques.1Park, D.-J., & Park, S.-Y. (2019). Which trunk exercise most effectively activates abdominal muscles? A comparative study of plank and isometric bilateral leg raise exercises. Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation32(5), 797–802. https://doi.org/10.3233/bmr-181122

Side planks involve an isometric contraction (contraction without movement) of your internal and external oblique muscles. 

One of the main benefits of isometric exercises like side planks is that they help build muscular endurance.2Oranchuk, D. J., Storey, A. G., Nelson, A. R., & Cronin, J. B. (2019). Isometric training and long-term adaptations: Effects of muscle length, intensity, and intent: A systematic review. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports29(4), 484–503. https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.13375

Studies have found that isometric exercises for the core muscles can help reduce the severity of lower back pain.

With regular planks, the exercise is typically performed on your forearms so that your elbows are down on the ground, but you can also perform a high plank where you are in the end position of a push-up with your arms fully extended instead of your elbows down on the floor.

The same principles can be applied to how to do side planks.

You can do side planks where you are supported with your elbow and forearm on the ground or high side planks wherein your arm is fully extended and just your hand is on the ground with your hips much higher up off of the floor.

A person doing a side plank.

Here are the steps for how to do a side plank with proper form in the high side plank position:

How To Perform A Side Plank

  1. Lie on your right side with your legs stacked on top of each other. Your body should be in a straight line.
  2. Push up and straighten your right arm (the arm on the side of your body that is resting on the ground) so that your whole body lifts up into the air. Your right arm should be straight, your legs remain straight and stacked, and your feet stay stacked one on top of one another. Reach your left arm straight up towards the ceiling or place it on your left hip, depending on how much stability you need and which position feels more comfortable.
  3. Engage your glutes, abs, and pelvic floor muscles to keep your hips in line with your body. Do not allow your hips to sag down or your body to twist or rotate relative to the floor.
  4. Hold this position for the desired length of time, remembering to breathe throughout and to continually engage your abs and glutes to support your pelvis and spine.
  5. Release the side plank by taking your top arm, putting it down on the ground, and relaxing your hips to the floor.

For the forearm side plank, perform the same exercise but instead of putting your hand down on the floor, stack your elbow directly under your shoulder and then allow your forearm and hand to brace your body on the floor perpendicular to your body. 

Beginners can even use the opposite arm to provide a little bit of stability by lightly touching the fingers on the floor in front of them. 

Otherwise, put your hand on your hip with your elbow pointing up towards the ceiling, or progress with your hand pointing straight up towards the ceiling.

Beginners can also start with the knees down, and as you get stronger, weight bear on the side of your foot instead.

In contrast to regular planks wherein the high plank is generally easier for the core muscles than the forearm plank, side planks become significantly more difficult when you press up onto your hand with your elbow fully extended rather than holding the elbow side plank exercise.

Both side planks have their merits, but beginners should start with the forearm side plank propped up onto your elbow.

As you get stronger, you can try the straight-arm side plank.

People doing side planks.

Variations of Side Planks

As with regular planks, there are many versions or ways to vary side planks.

Here are some advanced side plank progressions to add to your side plank workouts as your core strength increases.

Tackling an advanced side plank exercise will help you continue to build core strength and stability, particularly in your obliques, without needing to do longer side plank holds.

In other words, these challenging side plank variations will help you be more time-efficient with your side plank workouts.

#1: Side Plank With Thoracic Rotation

You can progress the elbow side plank by adding an element of movement, which makes this side plank exercise much more difficult for your obliques, rectus abdominis, and deep core muscles to stabilize your body.

Basically, adding movement to your upper body requires your core muscles to provide even more stability so that the shifting external resistance of the dumbbell in front of and then above your body does not throw off your balance or cause you to simultaneously rotate your trunk relative to the floor.

The key to maximizing the benefits of this side plank exercise is to move as slowly as possible with the thoracic rotations.

A person doing a side plank.

Here are the steps for this advanced side plank exercise:

  1. Get into the forearm side plank or high side plank position, holding a relatively light dumbbell in your top hand (the one not supporting your body).
  2. Press the dumbbell all the way up so that your hand is up towards the ceiling holding the weight. Make sure to engage your core muscles and glutes to support the side plank position.
  3. Slowly bring the dumbbell from its position up at the ceiling down in front of your body and then under your hip between your hip and the floor in a smooth arc. Beginners can start without any weights. If you aren’t using a weight, you can reach your extended arm all the way under and back behind your body to try to tap the opposite shoulder blade.
  4. Allow slight rotation of your hips towards the floor but try to resist as much pelvic rotation as possible, maintaining your static side plank position in the lower body and trying to just mobilize the thoracic spine and shoulder girdle. In other words, try to keep your hips perpendicular to the floor.
  5.  Pause briefly with the weight as far back and underneath your body as possible. 
  6. While maintaining your balance by engaging your glutes, deep transversus abdominis abs, erector spinae group, rectus abdominis, and internal and external obliques, rotate back to the starting position, lifting your top arm with the dumbbell all the way back up into the air.
  7. Complete all of your reps and then switch sides.

#2: Single-Leg Side Planks

A person doing a side plank.

This advanced side plank variation involves lifting your top leg, which makes it all the more difficult to balance and stabilize your body in the side plank position.

Here are the steps to perform this advanced side plank exercise:

  1. Get into the high plank position with your hand on the floor, your elbows straight, and your other arm pointing straight up toward the ceiling.
  2. Engage your abs and gluteus medius muscles as you lift your top leg up towards the ceiling, keeping your hips in line with your body and keeping both legs straight. Your body should look like a star position with your arms in a T and your legs scissored apart as if jumping out for a jumping jacks exercise.
  3. Think about contracting your obliques and engaging your entire core to prevent sinking into the supporting shoulder or arm. Your entire body from your head to the foot on the supporting leg should be in a straight line.
  4. Hold your leg up in the air for the desired side plank time and then relax back onto the floor.
  5. Turn over to switch sides.

You can also advance this side plank exercise by adding side leg lifts so that you will lift and lower your leg rather than hold it up in a static position.

You can further modify this side plank for beginners by starting in the forearm side plank and keeping your other hand on the floor for balance if necessary. 

A person doing a side plank.

How Many Side Planks Should I Do Based On My Fitness Goals?

Like regular planks, it is generally best to do side planks for time rather than reps.

This isn’t to say that you can’t do multiple side plank reps in a workout, but quantifying how many side planks you should do is best done by timing your side plank holds.

So, how long is a good side plank time?

Starting with just 5 to 10 seconds per side is ideal for beginners.

This short duration allows beginners to practice drawing in the belly3Lee, S., & Lee, S. (2022). The Effect of Abdominal Drawing-in Maneuver with Pressure Biofeedback Unit in Various Postures on Abdominal Muscle Contraction. Physical Therapy Rehabilitation Science11(2), 136–144. https://doi.org/10.14474/ptrs.2022.11.2.136 and build the mind-body connection with the deep core muscles while building core strength and muscular endurance.4Selkow, N. M., Eck, M. R., & Rivas, S. (2017). TRANSVERSUS ABDOMINIS ACTIVATION AND TIMING IMPROVES FOLLOWING CORE STABILITY TRAINING: A RANDOMIZED TRIAL. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy12(7), 1048–1056. https://doi.org/10.26603/ijspt20171048

Build up to three sets of 30 seconds for your side plank time per side and then try some of the advanced side plank progressions to build greater functional core strength.

A person doing a side plank.

This may seem like a short side plank time for advanced athletes.

However, Dr. McGill, a well-respected spine expert and creator of the McGill Big 3 Exercises says that you should only do isometric ab exercises like the side plank for 10 seconds at a time and then take a five-second break and then keep repeating this pattern for a set of side planks rather than holding a long, continuous side plank.

Therefore, for building core muscular endurance, rather than increasing how long you hold your side planks, work up to 5-6 sets of 20-30 seconds with 15 seconds of rest in between each side plank.

Then, consider adding the more advanced plank progressions.

You can also try elevating your feet or putting your forearm on an uneven surface such as a thick foam pad or a medicine ball.

For more great workout ideas, check out some stability ball exercises for your core here.

A stability ball lunge.

References

  • 1
    Park, D.-J., & Park, S.-Y. (2019). Which trunk exercise most effectively activates abdominal muscles? A comparative study of plank and isometric bilateral leg raise exercises. Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation32(5), 797–802. https://doi.org/10.3233/bmr-181122
  • 2
    Oranchuk, D. J., Storey, A. G., Nelson, A. R., & Cronin, J. B. (2019). Isometric training and long-term adaptations: Effects of muscle length, intensity, and intent: A systematic review. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports29(4), 484–503. https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.13375
  • 3
    Lee, S., & Lee, S. (2022). The Effect of Abdominal Drawing-in Maneuver with Pressure Biofeedback Unit in Various Postures on Abdominal Muscle Contraction. Physical Therapy Rehabilitation Science11(2), 136–144. https://doi.org/10.14474/ptrs.2022.11.2.136
  • 4
    Selkow, N. M., Eck, M. R., & Rivas, S. (2017). TRANSVERSUS ABDOMINIS ACTIVATION AND TIMING IMPROVES FOLLOWING CORE STABILITY TRAINING: A RANDOMIZED TRIAL. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy12(7), 1048–1056. https://doi.org/10.26603/ijspt20171048
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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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