Here are some Pilates training tips and preparatory exercises for safe shoulders and a strong core for success with Side Plank in an Advanced Pilates Mat workout.
In Pilates Matwork the Side Plank exercise is a part of a higher intermediate or advanced workout. In Joseph Pilates’ book Return to Life, Joe calls this exercise The Side Bend.
This is an excellent exercise for strengthening the arms & shoulders, as well as the lats, lumbar spine, and hips. In order to balance the body perched on one hand and one foot, the pelvic floor, inner thighs, and core must also stay very strong and active. The Side Plank/Side Bend is a challenging exercise to do and do well!
As with all other Pilates exercises, organizing the body for efficient movement is critical to get into and out of your Side Plank/Side Bend safely. Done well this is an excellent arm and shoulder exercise. Done wrong, this exercise can be one that can create shoulder problems, and shoulder pain.
It’s important if your goal is to add the Side Plank/Side Bend exercise into your Pilates workout routine that you’ve prepared the body by getting strong with other arm and shoulder exercises. Your preparatory exercises should not only be done over several weeks/months to help you progress into Side Plank, but should also be done during your workouts to warm up the body for Side Plank.
Matwork Exercises That Are Helpful to Prepare For Side Plank/Side Bend:
Push-Ups, Front Plank, Leg Pull Front, Leg Pull Back, Hip Circles, and Hand-Weight Exercises should all be prerequisites to learning a Side Plank.
Additionally, Reformer, Chair, Cadillac, and Barrel exercises that focus on upper body strength and shoulder mechanics should also be prerequisites to help progress into a good Side Plank.
The Pilates Equipment Exercises I Use for Side Plank Prep are:
Reformer: Long Stretch, Up Stretch, Long Back Stretch, Knees Off, Short-Box Side Bend.
Cadillac: Arm Springs – Circles, Combo, Triceps, Mermaid with the Push-Through Bar, Spread Eagle, Roll Down Bar Exercises: Standing/Kneeling – Chest Expansion, 1 arm-Lat Pull, Salute Combo-Garage Door, Long Back Stretch Arms.
Chair: Push-ups, 1-Arm Press, Pike, Side Pike, 1 Arm-Pike, Mermaid, Kneeling Mermaid
Spine Corrector: Mermaid, Paint a Rainbow – Shoulder Mechanics exercise (see Arc Barrel Exercise book A Barrel of Fun! for details on this and lots of other great Arc Barrel exercises that will be helpful for strengthening shoulders, hips, and core.)
Ladder Barrel: Side Bends (from Short Box series, and the Full Side Bend sideways on the Barrel)
I’m also a fan of the Fletcher Towelwork® to improve arm & shoulder mechanics, and work on lateral body movement. I occasionally will incorporate some of the Fletcher Towelwork® seated (straddling) the Reformer as a “break” at the end of Stomach Massage. It’s also important to do Standing Side Bend Exercises as this is similar to the position for the Side Plank/Side Bend exercise in Advanced Mat. Keeping the arms extended overhead with only the resistance of pulling the towel apart and maintaining good shoulder mechanics while bending the body laterally is helping to strengthen the arms and shoulders for the weight-bearing position required of the Side Plank/Side Bend exercise.
Do I make all my clients learn ALL of these preparatory exercises before I teach Side Plank?
No, but they’ve done a variety of them for months or years so I know they’re arms and shoulders are strong and they are confident with good shoulder mechanics so that even their first attempt at a Side Plank can be successful. (Not necessarily perfect! Still a challenge…but able to safely get into and out of the Side Plank/Side Bend position without undue stress or strain on the arms & shoulders.)
Play with these preparatory exercises to help improve arm, shoulder, and core strength for a successful Side Plank / Side Bend. Are there other exercises you like to use to prep for Side Plank? Please share in the comment section below. And look for my next article on the Side Plank / Side Bend: “Pilates Training Tips for How to Execute a Great Side Plank” coming soon…