Performing a Side Bridge Exercise Has its Advantages

The side bridge exercise is a stellar movement targeting the oblique muscles, commonly referred to as the “outer abs”. The various layers of oblique muscles are just one of the 29 muscles that make up your “core”. The muscle group plays a vital role in posture, core stabilization, activities of daily living and athletic performance. The exercise reveals its true potential, though, by the many secondary muscles it activates while “holding” the position. In addition to the obliques, other muscles like the gluteus medius and gluteus maximus, are engaged to help stabilize the hips. Finally, your shoulder stabilizers work in concert to keep you aligned as well. 

What are the Benefits of the Side Bridge Exercise?

Aside from all the benefits it provides for your body, the side bridge also brings plenty of convenience to the table. It is a terrific bodyweight exercise, all you need to do a side bridge is a mat and a few minutes. The power of the side bridge extends well beyond just your obliques. The side bridge influences every muscle that the obliques touch or are related to. Here are just a few of the benefits of performing the exercise:

  • Side bridge activates as much as 40 percent of the upper and lower back muscles. This is more than many common back exercises.
  • Not only does it work your obliques exceptionally well (about 50 percent of their maximum), it recruits your rectus abdominals too (about 34 percent of its maximum). This amount of muscle activation is similar to performing a crunch or front bridge exercise (aka plank).
  • The side bridge is an ideal exercise to train the back muscles, especially the deep muscle, known as the quadratus lumborum. The QL is an important muscle for providing spine stability.
  • Performing the side bridge exercise is one of the best ways to work your hip abductor and glute muscles. The hip abductor muscles work at about 74 percent of their maximum capacity during the side bridge. That number, by the way, doubles the work of the muscle often prescribed for hip muscle weakness, the side-lying leg raise (aka hip abduction).

How to Modify a Side Bridge Exercise

You can do a traditional side bridge or change things up to make the movement easier or harder.

Lift Your Top Leg Up – This increases the stress on the side of the body closest to the ground.

Flex the Hip of the Bottom Leg – This puts all of the weight on your top leg and is the excellent way to train your inner thighs (e.g. your hip adductor muscles). This is a great exercise for any hockey players.

Change Your Point of Support – Rather than supporting yourself from your forearms or feet, you can support yourself from your knees (easier) or from your extended arm (easier on the muscles but harder to balance).

Why is This So Important?

Developing core strength is important for not only posture but every day activities as well. In addition, if you are a runner, triathlete, cyclist or swimmer, then the side bridge should be part of your conditioning program. The side bridge exercise is typically done three times per week, holding the position for 3-10 seconds. Hold the position for a desired time and then roll back. Keep repeating this until you can’t maintain your form. You can also try doing straight sets on one side before switching sides.

The simplest rationale for the side bridge exercise is it builds your muscle capacity providing better hip and trunk stability. The muscles that get strengthened over time, help keep your pelvis level (neutral). This is not only important to prevent back and hip pain but is also very important in preventing knee injuries. One important aspect of knee pain is hip stability and hip abductor and glute medius weakness. The side bridge is ideal for improving stability about the hips and thus preventing or treating knee pain that has been known to cause hip dysfunction.

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Trunk Muscles

In addition to providing a great workout for the obliques, transversus abdominis, and rectus abdominis, side bridges work many muscles of the core or trunk. This exercise engages the glutes as synergists, or muscles that help other muscles complete a movement. Side bridges focus on the hips, engaging other synergists such as the quadratus lumborum, psoas major and hip adductors. In addition, additional back muscles such as the iliocostalis and the latissimus dorsi are also activated with side bridges.

Additional Muscles

Side bridges don’t stop at the abs and trunk. Upper-thigh muscles, including the tensor fasciae late, gracious and pectineus act as synergists, as do the deltoids, supraspinatus, and trapezius of the shoulders and upper back. Likewise, the pectoralis muscles of the chest and levator scapulae of the upper shoulders serve as stabilizers, or muscles that help other muscles maintain a certain position during exercise.

Muscle Activation

The side bridge not only excels in the quantity of muscles it engages, it also offers quality activation. Physiotherapist and chiropractor Greg Lehman notes that this exercise engages your upper and lower back muscles at 40 percent of their maximum, a figure far greater than typical back exercises. Lehman also says that the obliques and rectus abdominal experience engagement of 50 percent and 34 percent respectively, making for abdominal engagement roughly on par with crunches. The hips get the biggest benefit, however, at about 74 percent engagement. That’s twice the engagement of the common side-lying leg raise.

Low Back Pain

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research by the University of Virginia, reveals further benefits of the side bridge exercise for those who suffer from recurrent low-back pain (LBP). The study found that those with recurrent low-back pain experience the same level of muscle activation, or efficient muscle contraction, as those who did not suffer from LBP when performing side bridges. The news is doubly good, as the same study notes that a weak transverse abdominous may actually be part of the cause of LBP.

Use Jefit to Plan & Track Your Workouts

The Jefit app was named best app for 2021 by PC Magazine and Men’s Health. The app comes equipped with a customizable workout planner, training log, the ability to track data and share workouts with friends. Take advantage of Jefit’s huge exercise database for your strength workouts. Visit our members-only Facebook group. Connect with like-minded people, share tips, and advice to help get closer to reaching your fitness goals. Try one of the new interval-based workouts and add it to your weekly training schedule. Stay strong with Jefit.

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Side Plank: A Great Core Exercise for Everyone

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One of the best exercises you can do if you want a strong core is a side plank. In fact, not only is it effective, it’s also safe on the back and as versatile as exercises come. You see many gym goers performing different variations of the exercise when working out. Have you ever wondered, though, what are the benefits of “planking” and what other muscle groups are involved other than the obliques?

What Are the Benefits of the Side Plank?

Above all, side plank target the obliques, or the “outer abs,” but the exercise reveals its true potential regarding the secondary muscles it engages. This simple movement, a side-facing plank in which you rest on your forearm, lifting and lowering your hips, essentially works every muscle that the obliques touch or influence. Aside from all the benefits, the side plank brings plenty of convenience to the table as a bodyweight exercise. All you need for a side plank is an exercise mat and a few free minutes. The power of the side plank extends well beyond your obliques. The side plank influences every muscle that the obliques touch or are related to. Here are some quick facts about this great exercise:

  • The side plank works more than 40 percent of your upper and lower back muscles. This is more than many of the common back exercises people do.
  • Not only does it work your obliques exceptionally well (about 50 percent of their maximum) it works your rectus abdominis (aka the “six-pack muscle”) as well (about 34 percent of its maximum).
  • The side plank is and excellent exercise to train one of the deep back muscle known as the “QL” or the quadratus lumborum. The QL is an important muscle for providing stability to your spine and hips.
  • The side plank is one of the best ways to work your hip abductor muscles. The hip abductor muscles work at about 74 percent of their maximum during the plank. This is almost double the work that this muscle does during the exercise that is most commonly prescribed for hip muscle weakness, the side lying leg raise.

Exercise Modifications

You can do the traditional side plank or you can easily change things up making it easier or more difficult. For example.

Lift your top leg up. This increases the stress on the side of the body closest to the ground.
Flex at the hip of the bottom leg. This puts all of the weight on your top leg and is the excellent way to train your inner thighs (e.g. your hip adductor muscles). This is a great exercise for everyone from a hockey players to an equestrian. Instead of supporting yourself from your forearms or feet you can support yourself from your knees (easier) or from you hand (easier on the muscles but harder to balance).

Why Is All This Important?

If you are a runner, triathlete, cyclist or swimmer then the side plank must be part of your conditioning program. Ideally, the side plank, as part of a core program, is done a minimum of three times per week. The plank position can be held for 3-10 seconds and then you can “roll” to the other side, hold that position and then roll back. Keep repeating this until you no longer can maintain good form. Rest one to two minutes and then perform another set. As you get stronger, hold the position for 30-seconds to 2-minutes.

The basic by-product of the side plank is it builds muscle endurance and strength, invariably providing hip and trunk stability. The muscles involved in a side plank help maintain a neutral pelvis. In turn, the spine is “held” in a strong, functional position. This not only helps prevent back and hip pain but also plays a role in preventing knee injuries. One important aspect of knee pain is hip instability and hip abductor weakness. The side plank is ideal for improving stability around the hips thus preventing knee pain caused by hip dysfunction.

Muscle Recruitment During Side Plank

In addition to providing a great endurance workout for the obliques, transverse abdominis, and rectus abdominis, side planks work many of the muscles that make up the core or trunk. This particular exercise engages the glutes as synergists, or muscles that help other muscles complete a movement. Side plank focuses especially on the hips, engaging other synergists such as the quadratus lumborum, psoas major and hip adductors. Major back muscles such as the iliocostalis of the lower back and the latissimus dorsi of the middle back also get recruited or worked when performing a side plank.

Side planks don’t stop at the abs and trunk. Upper-thigh muscles, including the gracilas and pectineus act as synergists, as do the deltoids, supraspinatus, trapezius and upper back. Likewise, the pectoralis muscles of the chest and levator scapula of the upper shoulders serve as stabilizers, or muscles that help other muscles maintain a specific position during an exercise.

Additional Muscle Engagement

The side plank not only excels in the quantity of muscles it engages, it also offers quality engagement. Physiotherapist and chiropractor Greg Lehman notes that this exercise engages 40 percent of your upper and lower back muscles, a figure far greater than typical back exercises. Lehman also says that the obliques and rectus abdominal experience engagement of 50 percent and 34 percent respectively, making for abdominal engagement roughly on par with crunches. The hips get the biggest benefit, however, at about 74 percent engagement. That’s twice the muscle engagement of the common lying leg raise.

Low-Back Pain

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research out of the University of Virginia reveals further benefits of side planks for those who suffer from recurrent low-back pain (LBP). This study found that those with recurrent LBP experience the same level of muscle activation, or efficient muscle contraction, as those who do not suffer from LBP when performing a side plank. The news is doubly good, as the same study notes that a weak transverse abdominis may actually be part of the cause of LBP.

Exercise Progression

The article touched on earlier that the side plank among other things is a versatile exercise. It can be adjusted for any fitness level. A novice exerciser might initially try a standing side plank leaning against a wall. A safe option in terms of an exercise progression would be to move to the floor with both knees bent and one hand on the floor for added support. As someone becomes stronger they could progress to a more traditional side plank, keeping the legs straight and the forearm on the ground. At this point, the goal could be to increase overall hold time or increase the sets and repetitions. Some back experts, like Dr. Stuart McGill, believe in focusing on the ladder, more sets and repetitions, rather than one long set holding it for time. The following photos demonstrate a few of the many plank variations.

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The Jefit app offers many different core exercises found in existing programs in the routine database or when building a new exercise session. Try adding the side plank or one of many plank variations to your next workout. Stay Strong with Jefit!

Contribution by Emily Trahn

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