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An intermediate-level Pilates exercise, the side plank on the elbow requires you to support your body weight on your forearm and the side of one foot. Considerable core strength is needed to keep your hips from sinking toward the floor. When performing this exercise, pay attention to good form. Keep your shoulders, hips, knees and feet in one straight diagonal line, and make sure your neck and head continue the line of your spine.
The side plank primarily works muscles in your core. It strengthens abdominal and back muscles, particularly the transversus abdominis, rectus abdominis, obliques and quadratus lumborum. It also targets the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus in the hips, as well as the adductor muscles located in the inner thigh.
The side plank also works several other muscles that provide additional stability as you hold the position. These muscles include the gluteus maximus, the quadriceps on the front of your thighs and the hamstrings on the back of your thighs.
If you are not quite able to perform a side plank on the elbow with good form, you can modify the exercise to strengthen many of the same muscles. Instead of extending your legs, bend your knees so your forearm and the side of one knee support your body weight. In this version, keep your shoulders, hips and knees in one continuous line, and let your feet go behind your body. This version does not work the hamstrings, and the adductors are worked less than they would be with the straight-leg version.
When you are ready for a more challenging version of the side plank, try lifting one leg. You can lift the top leg until it is parallel to the floor, or you can bend the knee of the bottom leg as you take the foot off the floor. Both of these versions require extra effort in the abductors and adductors.