Evaluating Side Planks Through Functional Patterns Principles

Evaluating Side Planks Through Functional Patterns Principles


The side plank, a well-known exercise often associated with core strengthening, is traditionally touted for its benefits in sculpting the waist and targeting the oblique muscles. However, when examined through the Functional Patterns (FP) lens, we might find that this exercise doesn't align with the principles of biomechanically beneficial movements. This article aims to dissect the potential and limitations of side planks and explain why FP promotes more anatomically sound approaches for overall health and well-being. 

Functional Patterns Take on Side Planks 

Side planks

Muscles Engaged in Side Planks 

While side planks primarily engage the obliques, the FP approach advocates for exercises that target these muscles more naturally and effectively, ensuring a balance that is in tune with human biomechanics. When looking at the oblique muscles deeply, you will notice how it is intertwined with the other parts of our body. A good example is the study done by Thomas Myer, where the obliques connect directly to our glutes, pecs, and lats. This would indicate that if a movement is isolated, then that movement can’t connect the other parts of the body correctly.

As you can see in the image below our obliques connect to our glutes, and movement that does not respect a gait cycle is typically isolated and a symptoms approach.

Side planks

Figure 1: Myers, T. W. (2021). Anatomy trains: Myofascial Meridians for manual therapists and Movement Professionals. Elsevier.


Alternative to Side Plank Dips and Lifts 

Even though side plank dips and lifts are popular, FP encourages individuals to seek exercises that respect the human body's natural alignment, surpassing the boundaries of conventional fitness regimes. 

A typical oblique exercise from a traditional stand-point would be a side plank dip, shown below 

side plank

As you notice above, the static movement and lack of glute tension throughout the movement. The problem here is that lack of integration leads to training the body to move without the glutes and core/obliques incorporated. When an isolated approach is used, the system fails to integrate. At FP our approach is a systems-first approach, which allows for the obliques to still look good and move correctly, but not at the expense of the glutes and other parts of the body working together. 

Addressing Concerns from a Functional Patterns Perspective 

While many individuals hope to achieve a smaller waist through exercises like side planks, FP emphasizes movements that not only sculpt the body but enhance overall functionality, steering clear of isolated exercises that may not harmonize with the body's structural integrity. It is apparent that people would like to have better figures but also be pain-free. This approach is possible when done correctly. Avoiding an isolated exercise like the side plank is a good start. But then what is an alternative? Moving the way the body was intended to, while may seem abstract and sound vague. It is not as difficult as it may sound, the movements that need to be addressed are simple, yet take more precision to understand. Starting with movements like the First Four: Standing, Walking, Running, and Throwing are good starting points. This is usually addressed in the 10-week course. A good starting point is to move in a way where your upper body rotates into each lead leg while training. That way the obliques move with the glutes and so on. While injuries are a norm in the industry today, in FP the approach is more subtle and precise. 

In the pursuit of a strong and resilient physique, individuals often gravitate towards exercises that promise quick results, sometimes overlooking the potential repercussions on their spinal health. The wave of popularity around side planks is no exception to this. While these exercises are revered for their ability to tone and strengthen the core, there lies an underlying debate concerning their impact on spinal health, specifically the potential to strain the back or worsen existing conditions such as herniated discs. 

The concerns about the potential for side planks to cause back strain or exacerbate herniated discs are valid. FP offers preventative solutions by promoting exercises that nurture the back and the entire body, reducing the risk of injuries and fostering a well-rounded approach to health. Functional Patterns address this in the systems approach while incorporating effective movements that prevent injury and help the client gain strength back. All of this while looking good again, rehydrating the tissue in the body to make a better mover. 

By turning the spotlight on nurturing holistic health rather than isolated muscles, the approach paves the path towards not only a robust physique but also a harmonious relationship with one's own body, encouraging movements that are both safe and beneficial in the long run. 

Conclusion: A Step Beyond Conventional Approaches with Functional Patterns 

In analyzing the effectiveness and possible drawbacks of side planks, the insights provided by Functional Patterns present a pathway towards adopting a fitness regimen grounded in the understanding and respect for human biomechanics. According to FP, the goal is to transform exercises into tools for holistic health, reflecting the proactive and action-oriented approach that FP stands for. 

To learn more about how Functional Patterns can guide you to a practice that aligns with the natural harmony and structural respect of the human body, visit our website. You can also gain further insights from the Functional Podcast or enroll in our 10-week course. Remember, the journey to holistic health is about continual learning and adaptation, moving beyond conventional exercises to embrace truly functional movements. 


Myers, T. W. (2021). Anatomy trains: Myofascial Meridians for manual therapists and Movement Professionals. Elsevier.

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