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Want to tone your waist? Add the side plank to your workout routine

Target your obliques and strengthen your core with a side plank.
Young woman doing a side plank
Side planks help create a stronger, more stable core, which reduces the risk of back pain.TODAY Illustration / Stephanie Mansour

While the standard plank is widely incorporated into core workouts, the side plank is often overlooked. This variation of the plank targets the obliques, the muscles that run along the side of your core.

A traditional plank works the front of your core, but doesn’t require engagement of the obliques. So incorporating slide planks into your routine is an effective way to tone your waist and increase overall core strength.

The balancing strength-training move may look easier than it feels! This is because the side plank removes one touch point (one hand) and also targets an area of the core that is often ignored in traditional core exercises. So maintaining proper form is key to get the most out of the move.

What are the benefits of a side plank?

Consistently performing side planks improves muscle endurance in the lower back. The side plank targets the obliques, but also engages the quadratus lumborum. The quadratus lumborum makes up part of the posterior abdominal wall. Strengthening this area of the abdominal wall actually decreases the risk of back pain and makes for a stronger, more stable core.

From an aesthetic perspective, side planks will tone your obliques, “whittling” your waist and helping you lose inches, if that is your goal.

The common mistakes people make when doing a side plank

When performing the side plank, you need to actively engage the core for the entirety of the move. I see a lot of my clients forget to keep their core tightened while in side plank position. This makes the move less effective.

It’s also important to keep your head and neck straight, maintaining eye contact with an object or wall in front of you. Moving your head too much can strain the neck and make it more likely that you compromise your form.

Finally, keeping the hand that’s on the ground in line with the shoulder is key to maintain the integrity of the shoulder and wrist joint and avoid injury.

In order to avoid these common mistakes, I recommend keeping these tips in mind:

  • Balance on the side of your foot to keep stability. If you have a hard time remaining stable, unstack your feet and rest both of them on the ground, lined up toe to heel.
  • Squeeze your abs the entire time to keep your body straight and tight.
  • Find a spot on the wall to look at. Keep your head and neck straight.
  • Make sure the hand and wrist that you are balancing on are directly below your shoulder.

How to do a modified side plank

The side plank can be challenging due to the fact that many people aren’t used to targeting the obliques and quadratus lumborum when working the core, plus there is an added challenge to your balance. Instead of jumping right into the side plank, I recommend starting with a modification to build up your strength and stability.

First, hold it for shorter periods of time, building up to 45 seconds. If holding the side plank for even five seconds seems too challenging, I recommend dropping to the bottom knee to balance instead of staying on the edge of the foot. Be sure to still keep your body in a straight line and engage your core.

How to perform the side plank correctly

Maintaining proper form while in the side plank is essential in working on your core strength without injuring yourself. If you think you’re up for the challenge, follow these steps:

  1. Come into a plank position with your shoulders over your wrists.
  2. Pull your naval in toward your spine, and hug your legs together as you bring the left foot to touch the right. Turn onto the right outer edge of the right foot, stacking the left foot on top.
  3. Press down through your right hand, keeping it directly underneath your right shoulder, and slowly bring the left hand onto your left hip.
  4. Pull the abs in toward the spine and the right hip away from the floor.
  5. Extend the left arm straight up to the ceiling, and hold the position for 30-45 seconds before coming through plank and switching sides.

4 exercises that will help you perform the side plank better

Taking some time to work the entire core and build up your oblique strength will make performing a side plank more accessible. Here are some moves that target the same muscle group as the side plank:


Starting in plank position, bring your left knee to your left elbow. Hold for 2 seconds, then return your foot to the starting position. Bring your right knee to your right elbow. Hold for 2 seconds, then return your foot to the starting position. Each knee to elbow should look like a side crunch, alternating sides as you go. You should feel the burn in the obliques.

Wood choppers

Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a weight you’re comfortable with in both of your hands. Extend your arms so that they are straight up over your head. Twist your body left, bringing the weight across your body and down to the outside of your knee, bending your knees. Repeat this movement ten times before switching to the other side.

Dumbbell side bends

Side bends are a great way to start building muscle in the sides of your core. Stand up straight holding a weight of your choosing in your right hand. With your left hand behind your head, bend at your waist to the right, reaching the dumbbell down your side toward the floor. Then, use the left side of your waist (your obliques) to pull yourself back up to center. Repeat 10 times, then switch the weight to the left hand and repeat on the opposite side.

Standing side crunch

Standing up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart, place both hands behind your head. As you raise your right knee up, bend at the waist and reach your right elbow down to touch your right knee. Then repeat on the left side. Repeat 10 times; alternating side to side.

More ways to master the move: