Pilates Training Tips: How to Execute a Great Side Plank

by | Mar 13, 2012 | Pilates, Pilates Exercises, Techniques & Teaching Tips | 0 comments

This is the 2nd article related to improving the Pilates Side Plank exercise.  If you missed the first article, Pilates Training Tips: Preparatory Exercises for Side Plank, you might find it a helpful  to review and practice some of the recommended preparatory exercises first, then progress to the more advanced Side Plank exercise described here.

Benefits of the Pilates Side Plank Exercise

Balance to support the body, strengthening the shoulders, and improving lateral torso control are three primary benefits of the Side Plank exercise.

It takes every ounce of focus to do a well-executed Side Plank.  And while the Side Plank is a great exercise to improve shoulder strength, it is also an exercise that can quickly create shoulder pain, or a shoulder injury if executed incorrectly. 

It is especially critical that during the transition to lift up into the Side Plank, and to lower the body back down to the mat, that shoulder mechanics are functioning properly to stay safe and injury free.

The Side Plank exercise is one of the traditional Pilates Matwork exercises that Joseph Pilates describes in his book Return to Life.  In Return to Life, the Side Plank exercise is called The Side Bend.

How to Execute a Safe Side Plank

Starting Position:

  • Start seated on the right hip with the knees slightly bent.   Ideally the legs are stacked on top of each other, but to assist with balance, take the feet hip width apart.  If the top leg is forward, it will help keep the hips stacked.
  • Weight is on the right arm with the fingers pointing out away from the body
  • Be sure the elbow is bent, and the shoulder is pulling down away from the ear, supporting underneath the arm.
  • Left arm is resting along the left side of the body.
  • Eyes look straight ahead.

The Side Plank Exercise:

  • Inhale and pull down under the shoulder to begin lifting the ribcage, hips, and thighs up off the mat to support on the hand and side of the foot.
  • The non-supporting arm can assist by reaching up to the ceiling to create a T-shape.  Having both arms reach away helps to spread the shoulder blades and activate the serratus and lat muscles to support the lifted position.
  • Keep the Pelvic Floor engaged to help torso stability.
  • Activate the muscles along the outside of the supporting leg to help lift the hips high.
  • Hold and breathe.
  • To lower the body down, BEND THE ELBOW and PULL THE SHOULDER DOWN  first, then begin lowering the hip to the mat.  If the arm stays straight and the shoulder goes up while the hip goes down, you are creating the potential for a serious shoulder injury!

A Few More Thoughts About Practicing Side Plank

Written by Joseph H. Pilates

In Return to Life, when following Joe’s traditional order for the Pilates Matwork exercises, the Side Plank / Side Bend is exercise number 28 of 34 exercises.  This demonstrates the importance of doing many other exercises in your workout to ensure that the body is properly warmed up and prepared to do this more advanced and challenging move.

Before practicing  your Side Planks, or incorporating the Side Plank exercise into your other workouts.  Be sure that you have adequately prepared your body.  Do some ab work, arm & shoulder work, and hip and leg work, before progressing to your side plank exercise.  There is a lot of stress on the hand, wrists, and shoulders – doing push-ups first, or a few regular front planks first, along with exercises to warm up the rest of you,  will help ensure that your body is ready to tackle the challenge of executing a great Side Plank.

***Stay tuned for an upcoming article on Side Plank variations.  Discover ways to add variety and challenge to progress your workouts once you’ve mastered the Simple Side Plank!

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. Pilates Side Plank Exercise Variations - [...] the article, How to Execute a Great Side Plank,  I have provided directions to begin practicing a simple Side…

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