Pilates Exercise Tips To Strengthen the Body for Side Plank
Here are some suggestions and recommended Pilates exercises to help strengthen the shoulders and develop strong core support for a successful Side Plank exercise. The Side Plank exercise is a higher intermediate or advanced exercise in a Pilates Mat work. in his book Return to Life, Joseph Pilates calls this exercise the “Side Bend.”

The Side Plank/Side Bend exercise is wonderful for strengthening the arms & shoulders, lats, and spine. This exercise can be a real challenge. In order to balance the body perched on only one hand and one foot, the pelvic floor, inner thighs, outer hips, and core must stay strong and active.

Like every other Pilates exercise, organizing the body for efficient movement is an important part of helping you get into and out of your Side Plank/Side Bend safely. The transitions are every bit as important as the exercise! This is great work out for your arms and shoulders if execute properly. But done wrong, the Side Plank exercise can quickly cause shoulder problems, shoulder pain, and possibly a shoulder injury.

Before you incorporate the Side Plank exercise in your Pilates of fitness workouts, make sure that you’ve prepared your body by first doing other preparatory arm and shoulder strengthening exercises. These preparatory exercises shouldn’t only be done in your workout for several weeks or months in preparation for adding the Side Plank to your workout routine, only, but you’ll find them helpful to use for “warm-up” exercises when you add the Side Plank exercise to your workout.

Pilates Matwork Exercises That Are Helpful to Prepare for Side Plank:
• Push-Ups
• Front Plank
• Leg Pull Front
• Leg Pull Back
• Hip Circles
• Hand-Weight Exercises

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.

Pilates Equipment Exercises To Help Strengthen the Body 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 – 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 the Reformer Short Box series, and the Full Side Bend sideways on the Barrel)

The Fletcher Towelwork® is also a great way to improve arm and shoulder mechanics, strengthen the upper body, and work on lateral body movement. I like to incorporate some of the Fletcher Towelwork®, or other side bending exercises, seated (straddling) the Reformer 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, or holding a stick, and maintaining good shoulder mechanics while bending the body laterally is helping to strengthen the arms and shoulders for the weight-bearing position required for the Side Plank/Side Bend exercise.

Is In Necessary for Clients To Learn ALL of These Preparatory Exercises Before Practicing The Side Plank?

No. But it’s important to have strong, fit, flexible arms and shoulders, and a good understanding of proper shoulder mechanics to reduce the potential risk of injury with this weight-loaded one arm exercise.

If you’ve done enough of the right exercises to prepare for the challenge of the Side Plank Exercise, even your first attempt will be successful! Not necessarily perfect! Still a challenge…but you’ll be able to safely get into and out of the Side Plank/Side Bend position without undue stress or strain on the wrists, arms, and shoulders.

Strive to incorporate at least a few of these preparatory Pilates exercises into your workouts for several months to help improve arm, shoulder, and core strength before adding the Side Plank exercise to your workout and you’ll find that even from the start, you’ll be able to execute a safe and successful Side Plank / Side Bend exercise!


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Aliesa George is the founder of Centerworks® Pilates. She is an author, workshop presenter, and mind-body health expert with more than 25 years of experience designing solutions for health improvement. Aliesa has created a wide variety of products focused on Pilates, Foot Fitness, the Mind-Body Connection, Stress-Management, and Whole-Body Health. She enjoys helping others discover the connection between thought and action to get positive results and achieve goals for a healthy mind, body and spirit!