Here are some Pilates training tips and preparatory exercises to help keep your shoulders safe and develop strong core support for a successful Side Plank in an Advanced Pilates Mat workout.
Because this exercise involves balancing the body sideways on one arm and one leg, the Side Plank exercise is a high intermediate or advanced level exercise, thus enough preparation must done before attempting this exercise to ensure successful execution and avoid risk of injury. In his book Return to Life, Joseph Pilates called this exercise the “Side Bend.” There are lots of challenging variations, but before you do them, it’s important to be able to support the body in a basic Plank position.
The Side Plank / Side Bend is an excellent exercise to develop strength in your arms, shoulders, lats, lumbar spine, hips, and legs. It offers real challenge, in order to balance the body perched on one hand and one foot, the pelvic floor, inner thighs, core, and outer hips must be strong and active enough to help maintain balance and body control.
Just like with all the other Pilates exercises you do, training and organizing the body for efficient movement is crucial for you to safely get into and out of the Side Plank exercise. This is a great exercise to work on your arm and shoulder strength if done correctly, but can result in shoulder pain, problems, or injury if executed poorly.
If you want to add the Plank exercise to your Pilates workout routine, be sure you’ve taken enough training time to prepare yourself by doing other strengthening exercises for your arms, shoulders, hips, and core.
The preparatory training exercises you do for weeks, months, or even years before adding the Side Plank to your workouts should also continue to be done as “warm-up” exercises when you add the Side Plank exercise into your program, so your body is ready to do this challenging advanced Pilates Mat exercise and not get hurt.
Pilates Matwork Exercises to Prep for the Side Bend:
Push-Ups, Front Plank, Leg Pull Front, Leg Pull Back, Hip Circles, and Hand-Weight Exercises are all important pre-requisites to doing a good Side Plank exercise.
Additionally, Reformer, Chair, Cadillac, and Barrel exercises that focus on upper body strength and proper shoulder mechanics will also be of great help to you as you progress into the Side Plank exercise.
Pilates Equipment Exercises to Strengthen the Upper Body & Prepare for Side Plank:
- 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, and other Shoulder Mechanics exercises
- Ladder Barrel: Side Bends (from the Reformer Short Box series, and the Full Side Bend sideways on the Barrel)
The Fletcher Towelwork® exercises are also great for improving upper body strength and shoulder mechanics, as well as working on lateral body movement. I like to occasionally incorporate some of the Fletcher Towelwork® seated (straddling) the Reformer, or other seated Side Bending exercises, after the Seated Twist at the end of the Stomach Massage Series.
It’s also very helpful to practice Standing Side Bend Exercises as this is similar to the position for the Plank/Side Bend exercise in Advanced Mat. Keeping the arms extended overhead with the resistance of pulling a towel apart (Fletcher Towelwork®,) or holding a stick, and maintaining good shoulder mechanics while bending the body.