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Side Plank Pose: The Complete Guide

A challenging arm-balancing posture, Vasisthasana strengthens your core, shoulders, and wrists, but also shows you that you can do hard things.


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Side Plank Pose is named after Vasistha, one of the oldest Vedic sages and an author of a number of Vedic hymns. In Sanskrit, Vasistha means “most excellent, best, richest,” and this highly revered sage is said to have helped King Ram, an incarnation of Vishnu, to gain clarity through his clouded vision.

Side Plank requires a blend of hip and hamstring mobility paired with awareness of the shoulders and a big dose of commitment, says yoga teacher Kathryn Budig. “When challenged by difficulty, it is an opportunity to focus your mind, to carefully balance on one hand before switching to the other and seeing things from the opposite side, from another perspective.”

At first, the full expression of the pose—with your top leg raised perpendicular to the floor—may feel impossible. But call on your mental fortitude and you will not just gain a more toned core and stronger shoulders and wrists, but a clarity that you can do things that feel hard or uncomfortable.

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Side Plank basics

Sanskrit:  Vasisthasana (vah-sish-TAHS-anna)
vasistha = most excellent, best, richest

Pose type: Arm balance

Targets: Upper-body strengthening

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Benefits

This fatigue-fighting posture can improve your body awareness. It also can boost your energy and strengthen your core (especially the muscles that support your spine and abdominal obliques). This posture can help counteract scoliosis when done correctly, but you should seek a yoga teacher or yoga therapist in guiding you through how to best maximize this pose for scoliosis.

Other Side Plank perks:

  • Strengthens around your shoulders, including the rotator cuff muscles and the arm muscles of your supporting arm
  • Improves postural awareness
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Step-by-step instructions:

  1. Begin in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), then shift forward into Plank Pose.
  2. Roll onto the outside edge of your right foot, and stack your left foot on top of your right. Reach for the floor with your left big toe mound—this will help to activate your gluteus medius so your bottom hip does not sink toward the floor.
  3. Place your left hand onto your left hip, turning your torso to the left as you do, and support the weight of your body on the outer right foot and right hand.
  4. Focus on aligning your body into one long diagonal line from your heels to the crown of your head.
  5. Stretch your left arm toward the ceiling, so it is in line with your shoulders. Keep the head neutral, or gaze up at the left hand.
  6. Stay in the position for several breaths, then return to Plank and repeat on the other side.
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Explore the pose

Beginners often have a difficult time sustaining this pose. Try it with one foot down and the other foot pressed against a wall for stability. Start in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) with your heels against a wall. Measure the distance between your right foot and right hand, then step the foot halfway to the hand. Keep your right foot on the floor for support and turn the toes out to the right. Then shift onto the outside of the left foot, press the sole against the wall, and turn onto the left hand as described above. Start with your top arm alongside your body or you can bend the top elbow and place that hand on your hip. Balance is easier when the hand is not raised because your center of gravity is lower. Keep your shoulders stacked directly over your wrists. In this position, the bent leg will provide some extra support. Step back to Adho Mukha Svanasana at the end of your stay, then repeat to the other side.

Deepen the pose

  • Lift your top foot off the bottom, starting with an inch or two and increasing as you feel comfortable. You might eventually bend your top knee and place that foot on your bottom leg as you would in Vrksasana (Tree Pose) or come to One-Legged Side Plank Pose (see variations below).
  • You can also extend your top arm overhead as you would in Utthita Parsvokanasana (Extended Side Angle Pose).

Common mistakes

  • If you’re struggling to balance in the pose, look toward the floor. For a challenge, try looking up at the ceiling toward your extended arm.

Be mindful!

Use caution with intense abdominal exertion if you are pregnant or you have a hernia or unregulated high blood pressure. Avoid or modify this pose if you have wrist pain, wrist arthritis, or carpal tunnel. If your elbow hyperextends, then keep a slight bend in the joint.

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Side Plank variations

Photo: Eleanor Williamson

Side Plank with knee down

If balance is hard to maintain, let your bottom leg act as a kickstand: Set yourself up as if you are going to go into Side Plank, propped up on your side. Bend your top knee and step that foot in front of your body. Lift your hips up. You can take the option to lift your top arm and look up. Stay for several deep breaths, then slowly lower down. Repeat on the other side.

 

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Side Plank with a wedge

If your wrists are tender in the pose, place a wedge under your hand to lessen the pressure on your wrists. You can keep your bottom knee on the floor, or extend your leg and stack your ankle under the top ankle. Lift your top arm and look up or keep your hand on your hip.

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

One-legged Side Plank Pose

If you want to build even more core strength, lift your top leg. Start in Side Plank. Bend your top knee, and either grab your big toe with your top arm or put a strap around your foot. Lift your foot up toward the ceiling and push through your heel. Hold for several breaths, then release your foot and slowly lower it to the mat. Repeat on the other side.

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Preparatory and counter poses

Focus on warming up and engaging your arms, shoulders, core, and the entirety of your legs leading up to this posture to ensure safe and proper alignment.

Preparatory poses

Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)

Parighasana (Gate Pose)

Plank Pose

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

Utthita Parsvokanasana (Extended Side Angle Pose)

Paripurna Navasana (Boat Pose)

Counter poses

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog)

Balasana (Child’s Pose)

Sphinx Pose

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Your body in Side Plank | Anatomy

Vasishtasana has three main stories taking place: the arm that is holding the body up, the lower-side leg, and the pelvis. Each interacts with the other to create balance, says Ron Long, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and yoga instructor.

In the drawings below, pink muscles are stretching and blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.

An anatomy illustration of Side Plank Pose: Vasisthasana
(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

Straighten your bottom arm by contracting the triceps to extend the elbow. The long head of the triceps has its origin on the scapula; consequently, when you engage the muscle, it contributes stability to the shoulder.

When you press down through the hand, you activate the serratus anterior which abducts the scapula away from the midline. Maintain the arm perpendicular to the floor so that the force of gravity (the mechanical axis) aligns with the bones’ longitudinal axes.

On the lower-side leg, press the side of the foot into the floor, everything it and dorsiflexing the ankle so that the foot forms a right angle with the tibia. The peroneus longus and brevis muscles evert the foot. Contract the gluteus medius and tensor fascia lata to lift the pelvis at the hip by pressing the side of the foot into the floor.

The pelvis will sag at first. Get a feeling for lifting it by activating the abductor muscles on the sides of the hips and the lower-side abdominals.

An anatomy illustration shows the body in Side Plank Pose: Vasisthasana
(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

Engage the back extensors, including the erector spinae and quadratus lumborum. The lower side engages relatively more forcefully to lift the trunk and help prevent sagging. Contract the gluteus maximus to extend the hips and stabilize the pelvis. The rectus abdominis balances the work of the back muscles.

Excerpted with permission from The Key Poses of Yoga and Anatomy for Arm Balances and Inversions by Ray Long.

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Put Side Plank into practice

Ready to integrate Side Plank into your practice? Here are a few flows to try:

7 Yoga Poses to Work Those Easily Overlooked Lower Abs

A Practice for Falling Apart (And Coming Back Together)


About the contributors

Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.

Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.