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Side Planks for Better Shoulders

sandbag training

Cory Cripe, DVRT Master (Creator 0f DVRT Movement Strength, & DVRT Weekend Warrior)

It seems to be common knowledge that side planks will help strengthen your obliques. But why, and is that all? If you’re aim is to only “strengthen” your obliques then you might as well stick with those silly looking bendy exercises using the dumbbells!

I want to break down for you how side planks are a great exercise for your obliques and ::SPOILER ALERT:: even more muscle groups!

In the DVRT Universe, we have a good understanding of movement and how muscles don’t work in isolation, but synergistically. So when we look at the obliques, external and internal obliques (EO & IO), we can see how they are sandwiched between two other very important muscles: the glutes and lats. We need those obliques to help bridge the gap between the hips and shoulders for a stronger, more effective core!

side planks

The muscle many people forget about is the Quadratus Lumborum which gets torched in most of those side bending exercises. The obliques are meant to produce and resist rotation. Muscles like the QL and smaller glute muscles are meant to resist lateral motion!

For me personally, DVRT side planks have played a huge role in strengthening my core and keeping my low back from hurting. This hasn’t only benefited me during my training sessions, but what a difference it has made in my life as a fitness professional and (more importantly) as a father! This is why it’s such a goto DVRT drill for when creating training programs at Fitness Lying Down for our rockstars!

A big part of how we use the DVRT concepts of side planks at Fitness Lying Down is realizing that it is the qualities of side planks, not the exercise itself that is most important. The DVRT exercise above definitely has all the goodness of side planks, but in more dynamic natures. 

But how is the side plank such a game changer and why isn’t it utilized as much as it could be in local gyms and fitness programs? Spinal expert, and a personal favorite of mine, Dr Stuart McGill, actually lists the side plank as one of his “Top 3” core stabilizing exercises. He talks about the fact that anyone who “runs & cuts, carries a load, and so on” can benefit from this exercise. You don’t have to necessarily be an athlete that makes a juke move, but how about someone who carries a bag of groceries up the stairs, or a parent carrying their child at the mall?

Going from the ground to standing postures and exercises makes us realize that having that lateral strength of side planks is much more difficult than most people understand. I It is where we can unlock so much of our resiliency and strength potential. 

All of these people from pro-athletes to the mom who wants to carry her babies without low back pain can build lateral strength with this simple, but effective, exercise. However, it’s going to take some mindfulness and practice! We’ll need to spend more time on the intent of the movement and not just the task of the exercise.

A major problem is how the majority of training & exercise at your neighborhood gyms focuses on only one plane of motion, the sagittal plane. Why is that such problem? Many injuries occur not because we cannot create adequate forces in the sagittal plane of motion, but because we cannot resist forces from another plane of motion: the frontal plane.

Using the side plank can be of tremendous value in learning how to move more efficiently in the frontal plane, but also how to resist frontal plane forces (and that can be a serious injury prevention, or prehab, tool to have in your fitness toolbox). This is why Dr McGill rates the side plank so high on his list, it immediately addresses and restores the lack of lateral strength!

Side planks alone can be seen as a stability exercise, but the DVRT side planks using the Ultimate Sandbag will not only be a stability drill, but also a strength drill. And as much as I’ve discussed the benefits for the obliques and hips with the side plank, the shoulders can find improvement from a core that can resist lateral instability.

Remember how I mentioned above that the lats tie into the obliques and glutes to create a stronger chain? Well, that’s where you can find success in restoring better shoulder function through the side plank. To make this work, however, you need to focus on not merely lifting your body off the floor, but intentionally pushing your body off the floor. Pushing your body off the ground will create the necessary tension through your hips, obliques, & lats on the bottom side for the stabilization this frontal plane exercise demands! 

This new found lateral strength will create a stronger platform through the core allowing more mobility in the shoulder joint. As we like to say in DVRT, ‘proximal stability for distal mobility.’ Meaning the stronger your core is, the better your shoulders move – true story, I saw it on the internet!

There are so many DVRT Side Plank variations out there, so my recommendation is to start slow! Don’t just go chasing the coolest looking one. Spend some time getting better and honestly progressing yourself when the time comes. I like to include this in my warm-ups, but you can definitely put them in the meat of your workout as an anti-rotational core exercise, too!

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