Effing side planks!

Man I hate these. I can’t do them on my right elbow because my right shoulder has been a mess for about 30 years and that position really bothers it, but I somehow can do the straight arm version so I modify to that…but I can’t do them for very long. Its my weak link, Someone please tell me I will eventually get strong enough to handle these. If I’m struggling on beginner level 2A, I dread what’s ahead
in the side plank department.



It depends…is it the shoulder causing grief with the straight arm, or your quadratus lumborum (the main muscle a side plank targets)? If the former, then it is worth working on whatever your shoulder issue is/was (if possible), if the latter, then of course.

I personally disagree with the way some exercises like these are given out, with longer holds. You are better off doing reps of 8 second holds with very short breaks (1-2 seconds) rather than extended holds. This is what I give to my patients (I’m a chiropractor) and this is what Stuart McGill says (you won’t find anyone better in the world when it comes to core/spinal stability knowledge).

Well, the quadratus lumborum is weak on both sides for sure, but its the right shoulder that gives me grief if I try do the side plank on my elbow. If I do the straight arm version then the shoulder doesn’t bother me as much. I have worked with a PT for this on and off over the years but it never seems to get much better. Mainly I work around it now and modify as needed. I’ll try your 8 second holds , thanks man.

I could barely do these when I started in STR Beginner 1. Gradually, I got better at them though – and now super proud to say that I can do them with the toe touches and leg raises and all the things having made my way up to Intermediate 5. Stick with it – it really is satisfying (and healthy!) to see the progress.


I struggle with side planks as well, especially the high side planks with straight arms. I’m better on my left side than my right. And it also depends on what exercises have come beforehand, not surprisingly. Going from pushups to side planks without a break is tough.

I’m trusting that even though I’m struggling with them, I am getting stronger, although I’m yet to be able to measure that in any quantifiable way.

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I initially found side planks very difficult, but getting much better at them now. But I never had a shoulder issue, I was only limited by my feeble core. I also found one side considerably weaker than the other, but that is getting better now too. I find straight planks a fair bit easier.

Interesting info about extended holds. Does that apply only if you are struggling with the longer holds or for everyone? Personally I find 30 sec holds okay, but I really struggle after a minute. So should I be doing 3x 20 sec holds instead of 1x 60 sec?

It applies to everyone. It is more beneficial to train these muscles with shorter holds because after 8 seconds or so the muscle becomes starved of oxygen, but some movement allows it to be reoxygenated (due to movement compressing veins it aids with venous return). It is better to do reps of 8secs, short break, and keep going.

The reason we want to train them this way is because the muscles are better trained for endurance than outright strength. It is not often we hold a hard position when these muscles and our backs fail. It is usually repeated strain, so we need endurance rather than power. It is more complicated than that, but that’s the basics.

High side planks are very hard. Particularly on left arm. My arms are thin, my wrists tiny. When I do this my arm starts shaking, need especially more wrist strength, and a bit more in the arms.

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I struggle too with side planks but after 5 weeks and 8 sessions of strength training in the Transition Ramp Up TP, I feel stronger, more confident and confortable …

Norm, I hear you! Same issue with shoulder pain — ~20 years in my case, old throwing injury which a couple years ago spontaneously got bad, led to a frozen shoulder, time off the bike, and a cortisone shot (calcific tendinitis). Overall much better now, but still painful when stressed. But I digress…

So, similar issue with side planks. I’m good on one side, and the other I struggle through, and don’t do them if they start to hurt in a non-muscle weakness sort of way (my upper body is also not terribly strong). I usually do TheraBand exercises to try to build strength and mobility in my shoulders, and maybe someday I’ll be at full strength on both sides with side planks. I’m into the Intermediate levels of the SUF strength training and I make it through the bad side’s side planks about 50% of the time.

Good luck!

Thanks Mike, that’s encouraging, misery loves company. I’m starting to see some incremental improvements already on my right side as I do these, so that’s good.


Stick with it - 7 weeks in to strength and there is a slow but noticeable improvement. Side planks I couldn’t do at all, now I can. Additions to side planks struggling with but I’m confident I’ll improve. Core is definitely stronger but lots of suffering still to do. You can do it!

for me it is immediate discomfort. A dull ache swarms through my body screaming for me to lie down. But it does not get any worse, If I do not get too alarmed by the discomfort, I can actually do the leg raises and stuff. I much prefer visiting the dentist though

After continuously doing Yoga since the pandemic lockdown, I can do side planks ok, whereas when I started I struggled. Now I can hold up my upper hand and try to look at that hand. Without balance I couldn’t look up to that hand and balance.

Given time, you can work towards it.

Now I understand why when I was trying to hold 4 mins planks, I was struggling after the 3rd minute. Then I was shaking and it was a struggle.

I’m finding the same. Initially I found side planks nearly impossible, but then they slowly got better and now I find them relatively comfortable and have started introducing single leg raises. Just have to keep chipping away at it.

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Thanks Ross, that explains something to me. We often do a 90 sec plank in my weekly pilates class, for the last 20 secs we can raise alternate legs if we wish. I find this easier than holding the stationary plank. Now I know why

Some of the yoga on SUF is very good, but some I would discourage. There are. Some videos where you’re asked to do things like double leg raises, crunches etc. Unfortunately these put so much strain on your lumbar discs it’s just not worth it, there are more effective ways to train the abs. Side planks are truly brilliant, but, as previously said, long holds serves no clinical benefit over shorter reps of 8 secs with microbreaks. Try doing 20+ 8secs on/2secs off… It’s not easy! Way better for you than just holding for 2-3 mins!

Each to their own though of course!

Okay Ross I’m sold on the shorter intervals, but 8 sec seems very short to me. I can imagine doing 15 sec plank intervals with say 10 sec recovery. But 8 sec with 2 sec recovery seems a bit extreme. I’m not sure I could even reset my position in 2 sec! My wife can do 4 or 5 min planks, so 8 sec intervals for her would seem like a bit of a joke. But I can imagine her doing 5 x 1 min planks instead of a single 5 min.

I guess I’m asking why 8 sec for everyone regardless of their ability to hold a plank?