Ab Exercises You Are Not Doing 5

by Sean St. Onge

And yet another addition to "Ab Exercises You Are Not Doing." I have provided a few other editions here and here

Covering many dreadful and awful yet extremely effective ways to challenge your core muscles from the Kettlebell Prone Drag to the uber exciting and equally humbling Supine Belly Press. 

Today we will revisit the side plank. This variation takes the drill down to its...wait for it...drumroll please...core.

See what I did there??

The standard side plank is set to challenge your internal and external obliques along with shoulder stabilization. Yet all too often we coaches find and issue with how this drill is performed. To create more of the desired effect we have simplified another version. 

One of the biggest issues we have found with the side plank is use of the lower back and when these muscles are already taxed hard from daily use of either being extended (standing all day) or in flexion (sitting), the first thing to go is the lower back pain that causes the exercise to fail and the hips to drop.

In a typical side plank, you would set up on your forearm and stacking up your feet together, extending your hips to the ceiling while bracing the side of your abdomen with your shoulders set back. In this variation we wish for you to get into almost a fetal position with your body. 

photo credit: stack.com 

photo credit: stack.com 

With your feet still stacked together, knees touching and tucked forward and still placing weight on your forearm, this will be the new starting position. To the naked eye it looks a bit easier and to another coach this may be seen as "regressive" or an easier version for a novice exerciser. (In the above picture, we would suggest bringing your knees closer to your hands, about 4-5 inches forward.)

Here's the rub.

What happens all too often and usually unbeknownst to the exerciser, is the use of the lower back specifically, the quadratus lumborum and spinal erectors. What happens in a regular side plank is the afore mentioned back muscles take over to help keep the hips from dropping to the floor. 

To eliminate the use of these muscles that are used all too much while standing or sitting in our everyday lives, we have devised another route to gain the illicit response from the mighty side plank...from the knees. 

Key cues to differentiate the two drills and eliminate the low back use. 
1. Focus on creating TWO points of hard pressure on the floor specifically with just your forearm and just above your knee. As putting pressure directly on the knee cap itself can be extremely painful for the average exerciser. 
2. I like to cue our clients to pretend there is a bug under your forearm and knee and if you move it will get away. Now try to crush it. By doing this you will utilize solely from the internal and external obliques, and while that happens you will feel less pressure on your feet and shoulders that normally in a traditional side plank take the brunt of your body's weight during the hold. 

Give this variation a try and keep the pain out of your back.