Pilates Matwork – Advanced Variations: Side Plank Exercise with a Twist

by | May 23, 2012 | Pilates | 1 comment

One of the great things about Pilates is that there are so many different ways to tweak the exercises and increase or decrease the challenge that you can literally spend a lifetime working on the same exercises and still enjoy variety in your workouts!

While I consider even the Simple Side Plank exercise “Advanced” because of the shoulder mechanics, upper body strength, and balance it requires to be able to execute the exercise safely, once you’ve mastered the basic exercise, and have played with some of the easier variations, here are two “super-advanced” twisting options for those of you that are looking for a real hard-core challenge!


Pilates Side Plank Exercise with Twist – Version I

This is a nice variation to gain the strength and control needed for the starting position of the Pilates Snake/Twist exercise on the Reformer.

Tips for Twist I

  • Start with the knees bent in closer to the body, top foot crossed over the bottom ankle, weight on the right arm – fingers pointed away from the body.
  • If the right hand is the support, you will put your weight on the ball of the left foot to pivot and lift.
  • Elbow starts bent, shoulder pulling down, lift under the ribs and hip to bring the body up, straighten the legs, and pivot on the foot to pike and lift the hips high.
  • Non supporting arm creates an arc from the side of the hips to over the head as the hips lift.
  • In the “UP” position, you will have twisted the body to be balanced in a forward pike position.
  • Balance on the right arm and left foot in the “up” position (right foot will be crossed in front of the left ankle in the pike).  Or to help with balance as you start – keep the weight on both feet as you pivot into the pike!
  • Reverse the arm, untwist as the hips lower, pulling the shoulder down and bending the elbow to finish seated on the mat.

Pilates Side Plank Exercise with Twist – Version II

This version is a wonderful way to work on rotation of the spine on a weight-bearing arm.

The tendency when we rotate is to crank the shoulder blades around to initiate twisting.  You can’t do that here and hold your balance.  For a good Twist II the shoulder blades have to stay wide and the spine and ribcage must rotate inside the shoulder blade.  We need this feeling and functional movement for a healthy upper body and pain-free shoulders.  It is definitely an advanced concept, and Side Plank with Twist II will be an advanced way of working on this!

Tips for Twist II

  • Start with the basic version of Side Plank.
  • In the lifted position, spiral the upper body forward turning the navel to the floor while the upper arm “threads the needle” and passes between the supporting arm and mat.
  • Maintain the lifted Plank position and un-twist to the Simple Side Plank starting from the belly button and untwisting to the Simple Side Plank “neutral” position.
  • Then start from the navel and spiral twist the torso up towards the ceiling while the upper arm moves back and away from the body stretching the chest.
  • Maintain the lifted Plank position and un-twist to the Simple Side Plank position, again starting from the belly button to un-twist from the bottom to the top.

Every time the spine twists and un-twists during Twist II the initiation point is the navel/lumbar spine.  Start twisting from the bottom of the spine to the top, and un-twist from the bottom to the top.  The moving arm and shoulder should “ride the rotation” of the spine.  The supporting shoulder stays lifted and still so the ribcage can  rotate and turn inside the supporting shoulder. Always start & finish Twist II  in the simple Side Plank position, then lower the body down to the mat.

4 Important Tips for  Side Plank Shoulder Safety

  1. It is vitally important while you are executing the spiral/twist, that you stay nicely lifted on the supporting arm.
  2. The ribcage should be rotating inside the shoulder blade to turn the torso.
  3. To transition out of the exercise, pull the shoulder down, BEND the elbow, and lower the hips to the mat.

A Few Final Thoughts on Adding a Twist to the Side Plank Exercise

If you think you’re strong, fit, and flexible – the Side Plank with a Twist variations are a great way to add a little more challenge to your workouts.

Be sure you work up to adding a twist to your Side Plank!  Start with easier variations, and once you’ve got great balance and body control, consider adding the twist to this exercise to challenge your strength, balance, and shoulder mechanics.

Executing these variations safely will require really good body awareness, shoulder mechanics, and lots of core strength to keep your whole body balancing, lifting, twisting, and moving gracefully. 

Stay focused on good form.  Fine-tune your technique to get the most out of your Side Plank with a Twist practice during your Pilates Mat workouts.  Enjoy the great whole-body benefits of this challenging Advanced Matwork exercise.


Did you miss the first three Pilates Training Tips: Side Plank Exercise articles?  To review the basics and help you progress to the challenge of the Side Plank with a Twist variations, here are the links:

Article #1:  Pilates Training Tips: Preparatory Exercises for Side Plank

Article #2:  Pilates Training Tips: How to Execute a Great Side Plank

Article #3:  Side Plank Variations:  How To Add More Challenge to Your Simple Side Plank for an Advanced Pilates Mat Workout

Aliesa George: Over the past three decades, Aliesa George has helped assist people with their personal health journeys by sharing, teaching, and developing Pilates, Foot Fitness, and other Mind-Body programs.

1 Comment

  1. Robin Biltz

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