Front Plank and Side Plank

How To Do Plank Variations Properly
By Alli McKeeFebruary 29, 2016

Front And Side Plank Exercise

The front and side plank exercises are great for strengthening the musculature of the anterior core. Plank exercises come with many different options that range in difficulty. When it comes to front and side planks, most people do not perform these exercises correctly and just mindlessly hold. This is not a proper plank. In order to get the most benefits out of these exercises, and to engage the right muscles, once your body is in the proper position, you want to contract all of your core muscles, including your glutes. If you are doing this correctly, you should not be able to hold yourself in the plank position for very long.

Equipment needed:

You do not need any equipment to do these bodyweight exercises.

Ability level:


The front and side plank exercises are great options for beginners who are looking to improve their core stability.
However, the regular variation of each might be too challenging for beginners. If this is the case, beginners can perform the front plank by elevating their forearms on a box or bench, and performing the modified variation. As for the side plank, beginners can modify the exercise by keeping their knees bent and on the floor. Beginners might perform 3 sets of 10-15 second holds of the modified front and side plank exercise. Once beginners can hold each variation for 15+ seconds with good form, they can progress to more advanced variations of each.


Intermediate lifters who have mastered the modified front and side plank can progress to the regular variations of each exercise where they are on their forearms and feet. Intermediate lifters who are comfortable with this can progress to doing both the front and side plank from their hands and feet, or can elevate their feet on a bench (or up a wall). You can also walk your forearms so they are farther ahead of your body, or can perform a variation where you press up onto your hands from your forearms, go back down to your forearms, and repeat, or you can perform the hand and shoulder tap and touch your opposite shoulder.

Women of an intermediate fitness level can do planks as part of their warm-up, can perform them between sets of upper body exercises (I do not like to perform this or any other core stability exercise with heavy compound lower body exercises as I want the core to be fresh for these exercises). The planks can also be used in a conditioning circuit as a way to increase overall core stability work. These exercises can also be used in workouts that are done in de-load weeks, or during recovery workouts.


Advanced lifters can use the front and side planks in their workout program the same ways as intermediate lifters.
They can also perform the same plank variations that I described for intermediate lifters, but with more resistance. This resistance can include chains, a weight plate (place on mid/lower back). Advanced lifters can also perform the Renegade row, or banded rows while in a plank position. As for the side plank, it can be made more challenging by placing chains or a weight plate the your hip. You can also make this exercise more challenging by performing a bottoms-up kettlebell hold, or by elevating your feet up the wall.

Benefits of Front And Side Planks:

Front and side planks offer many benefits. How a woman chooses to use a plank is highly dependent on her overall technical ability and experience, her reason for using the exercise, the set/rep scheme used, where it falls in the workout, what it’s paired with, and what the rest periods are. In general planks can be used to do any or all of the following:

  • increasing core strength, particularly the anterior core
  • evening out asymmetries and imbalances between the left and right sides (with the side plank)
  • preventing injuries, particularly any that result from a weak anterior core and the subsequent pelvic and spinal stability
  • warming the body up before performing more advanced exercise variations, or as part of a general warm-up
  • conditioning (if used as part of conditioning circuits)
  • convenient as it requires no equipment and can be performed anywhere, any time

How to perform a Front And Side Plank:

  • With the front plank, set yourself up so your forearms and feet are on the floor, and so your elbows are directly below your shoulders.
  • Your body should be in a straight(ish) line from your head to heels, and your spine should be in neutral alignment. I prefer to describe the alignment as what you would use while performing the hollow body core stability exercise.
  • Before you go, take a deep breath into your belly through your nose (360 degrees of air around the spine), then forcefully exhale, actively tuck your rib cage towards your hips (close the space in your midsection), contract all of the muscles around your trunk (including lats) and glutes, and hold.
  • If you are doing this correctly, you should not be able to hold for very long.
  • Do not allow your head to drop, hips to sag, or lower back to hyperextend.
  • Keep your chin tucked.
  • As for side planks, all of the key points are similar, but set yourself up so your one side is facing the floor, and so you are on your one forearm.
  • As for foot position, rather than stacking the feet one on top of another, I like to bring the foot of my upper leg so it is resting slightly ahead of the foot of the lower leg. This makes it much easier to keep your hips and ribs stacked.
  • When you are performing the side plank, it's absolutely crucial that you keep your hips and ribs stacked, and spine a neutral alignment.
  • Keep your chin tucked.
  • Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth for the duration of the exercise.

Video Transcription: 

These are plank variations. There are several different ways to do a plank, and I am going to show you a couple of them. First there is a front plank. We generally have people start off on their knees instead of their toes, it makes it a little bit easier to support less of their body weight. You want to be in a nice straight line, so if you had a broomstick on your back it would touch the back of your head, your upper back and your tailbone. Make sure that your ribs are down, that your glutes are tight, and that your chest is out. A lot of people will get into this position trying to stabilize with their upper back instead of using their core. We usually start people with the plank off of their knees. Everything is nice and tight. We like to hold it for somewhere in between 5 and 10 seconds then reset and come back up and reset. We actually use planks for reps often times.

And to make it more challenging you can keep your ribs down and brace really hard and try to breathe underneath the brace. You can also go to your toes. Again if you are going to take a break, you hold it for 5 to 10 seconds and come to your knees and relax and pop back up.

The next variation is the side plank, and you can also do a side plank off your knees believe it or not. Get your body nice and long. I just bend my knees and bring my feet back behind me, make sure your elbow is right underneath your shoulder, you are going to come up and squeeze your glutes. The hardest thing here is to try to hold your head in a nice neutral position. Your head will get in whatever position possible to try to counter balance. Glutes nice and tight, reset, pop back up and hold.

Again you can do this one off of your toes as well. Be in a nice a straight line, you don't want to be in a V where your hips come back, you don't want to let this sag and you don't want to come up too high. Again, nice straight line, elbow right underneath shoulder. That's a side plank.

Plank and side plank off your knees or off your toes are a couple of different variations. If any of this gets easy, you are always welcome to make it more difficult by adding a chain or a band. You can attach a band to the squat rack and put it around you while you are doing a plank to add a little bit more element and core stability. These are a few different variations.


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About the author:  Alli McKee

Alli is a certified strength and conditioning specialist. She's contributed to and modeled for a number of major publications including Oxygen magazine and the New Rules of Lifting: Supercharged. You can find out more about Alli on her personal blog at

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