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The Best Under-Utilized Exercise for a Healthy Back and Strong Core

A bodyweight core exercise we can do anytime and anywhere isn’t doing us much good if we don’t actually use it! Strengthen your core and back.

derek_tresize_side_plank_exercise_core_back_picAsk around if anyone wants a stronger core and a healthy lower back and chances are no one will turn you down. Having a strong core is fundamental to performing well in any physical activity and remaining pain free in daily life. And anyone who's ever suffered from back pain can attest that it is miserable and can often be debilitating as well. Countless classes and programs offered at gyms, in magazines, and online target strengthening the core for a tighter and stronger midsection. So the demand is certainly there, but there may be a simple and well-known exercise many of us aren't doing which could pay huge dividends towards a stronger core and a bulletproof lower back: the Side Plank.

One possible reason the side plank is usually overlooked is because most consider it an exercise for the obliques, rather than the core as a whole. When considered as an oblique exercise, someone may think, “Why would I need stronger obliques?” or may even be concerned that targeting the obliques will make their waist look wider. The aesthetic concern is unfounded, and there are two very important reasons why the side plank is so beneficial: it is fantastic for targeting the glute medius and it works the core in the frontal (coronal) plane of the body.

The gluteus medius is a muscle of the hip which sits slightly above and outside of the larger gluteus maximus. Its primary role is to rotate the hip outward as well as to stabilize the hip, lower back, and knee joints. Given the modern prevalence of sedentary habits, the glute medius is often weak and underdeveloped in most people, leading to a weaker core and hip structure, and less overall stability.

body_planes_picThe vast majority of exercises we choose to do in a gym or sports setting occur in the sagittal plane, or front and back of the body. If you think of any commonly used exercise, be it push-ups, lunges, or rows, it likely occurs in this plane of movement. While training in the sagittal plane is very important, doing so while neglecting other planes of motion such as the frontal (to the sides) and transverse (rotational) planes can develop imbalances and over time will lead to injuries.

Since the side plank is one of the best activators of the glute medius, and strengthens the core in the frontal plane, it makes an excellent addition to the program of anyone at any fitness level. It's not just an effective exercise, but it requires no equipment, minimal skill, and can easily be regressed or progressed based on ability. The side plank has even been shown to effectively treat scoliosis when performed daily only on the weaker (convex) side of the spine!

Given how easy, convenient, and beneficial the side plank is, I use it daily with my clients and I strongly suggest everyone incorporate it into their program on at least a weekly basis. Try adding two sets of 30 seconds per side to your regular workout, and I'm confident you'll feel a stronger, more stable core within just a few weeks!

Want some more variety in your plank workout? Give these a try!

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