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9+ Side-Plank Variations for Shredded Abs (Step-by-Step)

Updated: Nov 24, 2021

Do you want shredded abs? One of the most effective core exercises is the side plank. It mainly strengthens the obliques, which are situated on both sides of your body.


Despite the fact the side plank is an isometric exercise, it improves endurance, strength and muscle growth.


Strong core muscles are required in almost every exercise and movement, whether it's for a sport or for everyday activities.


But doing a single exercise is not the best way to enhance strength, size and endurance of your muscles, you need variation in your workouts.


In this article, I'll show you the best side plank variations for a stronger core.


Table of Contents:


man and woman doing the side plank exercise


Side Plank Variations

The variations of side plank listed below are in order of difficulty, the further your progress down this list, the harder it becomes.


Once you master your current side plank variation, come back here and see the next step!


Remember to progress at a speed comfortable for you, master the current variation before moving on to the next. Starting at 10 reps or 30 seconds per set is a good starting point.


1) Bent Knee Side Plank

The bent knee side plank is a great beginning point for the side plank, it is easy and can be done by almost anyone.


bent knee side plank

  • Lie on your side with your forearm perpendicular to your body and your lower elbow on the ground under your shoulder.

  • Bend one or both knees 90 degrees, if you bend both knees stack your feet on top of one another, this may be easier than keeping one leg straight.

  • Put your upper hand on your hip.

  • Drive your hips up to create a straight line from your head to your knees.

  • Squeeze and contract your abdominal muscles, glutes, and quads.

  • Maintain this stance for your desired amount of time.

  • Repeat this on the other side of your body.

  • Do this for your desired number of sets.


Bent Knee Leg Lift Variation

If you wish to progress without moving straight to the conventional side plank, you could try the bent knee leg lift variation.


bent knee leg lift side plank variation

You can do this by following the regular bent knee side plank instructions, but include a leg lift, simply lift your top leg up until your foot is almost in line with your top shoulder.


2) Conventional Side Plank

The conventional side plank is the most common variation, it is slightly harder than the bent knee versions.


Simply keep your legs straight and lift your hips up as usual, you'll notice that the area under your body is larger than the bent knee variation, making it harder.


Once you master this variation, move on to the elevated side plank.


conventional side plank

  • Lie on your side with your forearm perpendicular to your body and your lower elbow on the ground under your shoulder.

  • Place your top foot in front of your bottom foot on the ground.

  • Put your upper hand on your hip.

  • Drive your hips up to create a straight line from your head to your feet.

  • Squeeze and contract your abdominal muscles, glutes, and quads.

  • Maintain this stance for your desired amount of time.

  • Repeat this on the other side of your body.

  • Do this for your desired number of sets.



3) Elevated Side Plank

The elevated side plank is a step up from the conventional side plank, it is slightly harder.


It is the same process as the above variation, but instead of leaning on your forearm, keep your arm straight so your leaning on your hand.


Again, you'll notice the area under your body is larger, it'll also be harder to balance, making this version of the side plank harder.


Once you've mastered this variation, move on to the side plank with a leg lift.


elevated side plank

  • Lie on your side, put your bottom hand on the ground directly underneath your shoulder.

  • Place your top foot on top of your bottom foot on the ground.

  • Put your upper hand on your hip or side.

  • Drive your hips up, forming a straight line from head to toe.

  • Squeeze and contract your abdominal muscles, glutes, and quads.

  • Maintain this stance for your desired amount of time.

  • Repeat this on the other side of your body.

  • Do this for your desired number of sets.


4) Side Plank Leg Lift

The side plank with a leg lift is the next step on from an elevated side plank, it is slightly harder again.


You can either do this with a bent arm or a straight arm, doing it with a bent arm will be easier than the straight arm version.


Again, once you have mastered the leg lift variation, move on to the star side plank.


leg lift side plank

  • Lie on your side with your forearm perpendicular to your body and your lower elbow on the ground under your shoulder. If your doing the straight arm variation, put your hand directly under your shoulder instead of your elbow.

  • Stack your feet and rest your upper hand on your hip.

  • Drive your hips up, forming a straight line from head to toe.

  • Raise your top leg up so it's in line (or just below or above) with your top shoulder.

  • Squeeze and contract your abdominal muscles, glutes, and quads.

  • Maintain this stance for your desired amount of time.

  • Repeat this on the other side of your body.

  • Do this for your desired number of sets.


The higher up your top leg is, the harder it will be. The straight arm version of this side plank also makes it considerably harder, you could try these two things before moving on.


5) Star Side Plank

The star side plank is a step up from the leg lift side plank, it is harder than the straight arm leg lift side plank.


It requires you to combine the straight arm side plank with a leg lift and an arm lift, forming the shape of a "star", hence the name.


Once you master this variation, move on to the side plank lateral raise.


star side plank

  • Lie on your side with your arm directly below your shoulder, holding yourself up with your hand, like a normal straight arm side plank.

  • Stack your feet and rest your upper hand on your hip.

  • Drive your hips up, forming a straight line from head to toe.

  • Raise your top leg up so it's inline (or just below or above) with your top shoulder.

  • Then raise your top arm up from your hip into the air, straightening out your arm directly above you so both of your arms are in line with each other, forming the shape of a "star".

  • Squeeze and contract your abdominal muscles, glutes, and quads.

  • Maintain this stance for your desired amount of time.

  • Repeat this on the other side of your body.

  • Do this for your desired number of sets.


You can also do this exercise with a bent elbow, supporting your weight with your forearm, making this variation easier to perform, as shown below.


bent elbow star side plank demonstration
Bent elbow star side plank variation.

You could do the bent elbow version if you cannot yet do the straight arm side plank.


6) Side Plank Lateral Raise

The side plank lateral raise combines the normal side plank with a shoulder lateral raise, a type of resistance exercise.


side plank lateral raise

Adding the lateral raise to the the side plank includes an aspect of dynamic loading, making it less of an isometric exercise.


Using a dumbbell is the best way to do this, don't go heavy on this exercise, keep the weight light.


Once you've mastered this side plank variation, move on to the star side plank with lateral raise.




  • Grab a dumbbell of your desired weight.

  • Lie on your side with your arm or elbow directly below your shoulder, holding yourself up with your hand or elbow, like a normal side plank.

  • You can either hold yourself up with your feet or knees, depending on the difficulty you want.

  • Drive your hips up, forming a straight line from head to toe (or knees).

  • Grab the dumbbell selected and raise your top arm up into the air, straightening out your arm directly above you so both of your arms are in line with each other.

  • Squeeze and contract your abdominal muscles, glutes, and quads.

  • Raise and lower the dumbbell for your desired number of reps, you can either do this out to the side of your body (from above your shoulder to in front of your chest) or in line with your body (raising and lowering from above your shoulder to your thighs).

  • Repeat this on the other side of your body.

  • Do this for your desired number of sets.


Varying the position can make this exercise easier or harder. The easiest version is the bent leg, bent elbow side plank, the hardest being the straight arm, feet stacked version.


7) Star Side Plank With Lateral Raise

The star side plank with a lateral raise is more difficult than the previous variation.


It combines the star variation with the lateral raise variation, creating a star side plank with a lateral raise.


This is an advanced type of side plank and has multiple variations of itself from to easier to more difficult.


You should try to master this one before moving on to the next variation.


star side plank with lateral raise
Bent elbow, straight leg variation of the star side plank with a lateral raise.

  • Grab a dumbbell of your desired weight.

  • Lie on your side with your arm or elbow directly below your shoulder, holding yourself up with your hand or elbow, like a normal side plank.

  • You can either hold yourself up with your feet or knees, depending on the difficulty you want.

  • Drive your hips up, forming a straight line from head to toe (or knees).

  • Grab the dumbbell selected and raise your top arm up into the air, straightening out your arm directly above you so both of your arms are in line with each other.

  • Raise your leg up so it's in line (or just above or below) with your top shoulder.

  • Squeeze and contract your abdominal muscles, glutes, and quads.

  • Raise and lower the dumbbell for your desired number of reps, you can either do this out to the side of your body (from above your shoulder to in front of your chest) or in line with your body (raising and lowering from above your shoulder to your thighs).

  • Repeat this on the other side of your body.

  • Do this for your desired number of sets.


Like the previous side plank variation, you can make this version easier or harder by changing the position of your legs, knees and lower arm. You may wish to progress through the many variations of this one before moving on to the next variation.

8) Side Plank Knee-to-Elbow Crunch

As you may have noticed, these side plank variations are becoming less and less isometric in nature and more dynamic.


Dynamic movements are usually harder as it requires the use of multiple muscle groups and joints, incorporating many other minor, underlying and stabilising muscles.


The knee-to-elbow crunch variation of the side plank incorporates the abs crunch with the side plank.


You can move onto rotational side planks once you have mastered this variation.


side plank knee to elbow crunch

  • Lie on your side with your forearm perpendicular to your body and your lower elbow on the ground under your shoulder.

  • Stack your feet and rest your upper hand on your hip.

  • Drive your hips up, forming a straight line from head to toe.

  • Raise your top leg up to around the same level as your top shoulder.

  • Bring your top knee to your top elbow while keeping your body still.

  • Return to the starting position by extending your leg and arm.

  • Squeeze and contract your abdominal muscles, glutes, and quads.

  • Do this for your desired number of repetitions.

  • Repeat this on the other side of your body.

  • Do this for your desired number of sets.



9) Rotational Side Plank

The rotational side plank (also known as rotations) is the least isometric variation of the side plank.


Some people may find these easier than some of the previous variations, they may also be harder for other people.


The video below demonstrates how to do this variation.



  • Lie on your side with your forearm perpendicular to your body and your lower elbow on the ground underneath your shoulder.

  • Place your top foot in front of your bottom foot on the ground.

  • Raise your upper arm vertically, forming a "T" shape with your upper body.

  • Drive your hips up, forming a straight line from head to toe.

  • Squeeze and contract your abs, quads and glutes.

  • Rotate your body and put your opposing elbow on the ground (or near the ground).

  • Rotate the opposite way to come back to your starting position.

  • Continue in this exercise for your desired number of reps, one rep counts as a whole rotation from starting point, to the rotated point, and back to the starting point.

  • Repeat this on the other side of your body.

  • Do this for your desired number of sets.



Common Mistakes

An exercise like the side plank may seem to be very easy, but a few common mistakes can have a detrimental effect on muscle growth and strength gains.


Below are some common mistakes and how to fix them.


1) Don't Let Your Hips Droop

The lower back often droops when doing a conventional plank. The side plank sometimes causes a similar issue, but as your on your side, the hips droop down instead of the lower back.


Drooping hips suggest that your core muscles aren't performing their job of maintaining your spine upright.


Tighten your core muscles as though you're preparing for a punch, and push your hips up into the air. Draw an imagined line from head to toe across the middle of your body.


2) Keep Your Body Perpendicular to the Ground

Be mindful of your body posture as you prepare for the side plank. Stack your shoulders on top of each other, keeping your chest perpendicular to the ground.


Maintain this posture for the duration of the set.


3) Engage Your Glutes and Quads

You can do a Side Plank without activating your lower body. However, it is not as difficult, and your hips may return to being out of line with your body.


Contract your glutes and quads in the same way that you tighten your abs to lift your hips.


4) Don't Progress Too Quickly

Don't try to progress to more advanced side plank variations too quickly, such as the extended arm side plank. Practice and master one variation before trying another.


If you are struggling with a variation of the side plank, continue performing an easier version until you master that one.



Should You Vary Your Abs Workouts?

Variation is an important factor for muscle growth, strength and endurance.


If you perform the same exercise every workout, your muscles will get used to it.


Your muscles get used to two or three distinct workout movements when you alter your exercise regimen.


So, if you perform the same activity again and over, your muscles will get used to it and it will no longer be as effective.


As a result, changing your workout regimen every month or two will aid in muscle development.


Combining, adding new exercises, and progressing onto harder and more advanced exercises also has the same effect as changing exercises.

 

Written by Billy White


Billy White is a qualified Kinesiologist and Personal Trainer. He is an aspiring bodybuilder, fitness enthusiast, and health and fitness researcher.


He has multiple years of experience within the fitness, bodybuilding and health space. He is committed to providing the highest-quality information.


 

Further Reading

 

The information provided in this article is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the guidance of a physician or other competent professional before following advice or taking any supplement. See our terms and conditions.



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