8 Side Plank Alternatives (Substitutes For A Stronger Core)

You want the benefits of doing side planks but either don't enjoy doing them, or you'd like to target your core muscles more. The side plank primarily targets your obliques, but it also works your shoulders, hips, and chest muscles.

If you're looking for a great side plank alternative, we’ve rounded up eight core-focused substitutes for you to try.

Although the side plank is excellent for working your obliques, it’s not the most effective workout if you’re looking to strengthen your core. Whatever your reason for avoiding side planks, these alternatives will help you to build a strong core, as well as work other muscles throughout your whole body.

You can do most of these core-building substitutes with very little equipment, which makes them perfect for almost anywhere. 

1. Twisting Hanging Leg Raise 

The twisting hanging leg raise is a more advanced variation of the standard hanging leg range that targets the obliques as well as the rectus abdominis (your abs). At the same time, you’ll be strengthening your forearms, shoulders, lats, and hip flexors too.

To get the most out of this exercise, avoid swinging your body and squeeze your oblique muscles at the top of the movement. For this workout, you’ll need access to a pull-up bar on a structure that you can hang from.

Related Article - DIY Freestanding Pull Up Bar

How To Do A Twisting Hanging Leg Raise:

  • With your hands slighter wider than shoulder-width apart, hang from the bar. 
  • Brace your abs and bring your knees up, twisting them toward your shoulder. 
  • In a slow, controlled movement, lower your knees back down again. 
  • Next, bring your knees up again, this time twisting toward the other shoulder. 
  • Continue this movement, alternating between your left and right shoulder each time.  
  • Aim for 3-4 sets of 12 reps (6 per side). 
Twisting Hanging Leg Raise

2. Swiss Ball Crunch with Twist 

This Swiss ball crunch with a twist is an excellent exercise to build up a weak core. Studies show that when compared to a standard crunch, adding an exercise/Swiss ball is not only wonderful for training the abdominal muscles but can also considerably boost muscle activation. This workout will target your obliques as well as your abs. Of course, you’ll need an exercise ball to do this workout.

How To Do A Swiss Ball Crunch with Twist:

  • Sit on your Swiss ball, ensuring that your hips are elevated slightly above your knees.  
  • Slowly walk your feet forward until you are lying with your back against the ball. Your knees should be at a 90-degree angle. 
  • Place your hands behind your ears, engage your abs and slowly perform a crunch. 
  • Twisting at the top, drive your left shoulder toward your right leg. 
  • Slowly lower your shoulders and repeat the motion, this time driving your right shoulder toward your left leg. 
  • Continue this movement, alternating between your left and right side each time.  
  • Aim for 4 sets of 12 reps (6 per side). 

Further Reading - How To Use A Sit Up Bench

Swiss Ball Crunch With Twist

3. Oblique Kickbacks 

Oblique kickbacks combine the motion of a high plank kickback with a side mountain climber to target multiple muscle groups at once. While core-focused, oblique kickbacks offer a full-body workout.

This is because, along with your abs and obliques, you’ll also be working your shoulders, triceps, hamstrings, quads, glutes, and calves. Oblique kickbacks are a fantastic compound exercise that doesn’t require a lot of space or equipment. 

Read More - Basic Exercises You Can Anywhere

How To Do Oblique Kickbacks:

  • Start in a high plank position with your palms flat on the ground. 
  • Brace your core and perform a kickback, lifting your leg as high as you can. Be sure to keep your leg straight. 
  • Lower your leg and, without touching the ground, bring your knee up toward your elbow (like you would in a side mountain climber). 
  • Straighten your leg without letting it touch the ground, and repeat the movements. 
  • Continue with the same side for 15 reps before switching to the other leg. 
  • Aim for 3 sets of 30 reps, 15 reps per side.  
Oblique Kickbacks

4. V-Up Twist 

The v-up twist is an excellent dynamic exercise that combines the benefits of a standard v-up and a Russian twist. This workout will target your rectus abdominis (ab muscles) most but will strengthen your obliques and transverse abdominis too. 

The benefit of this workout is that you don't need any extra equipment, nor do you need a large amount of space. To get the most out of this exercise, engage your core throughout the whole movement, making sure not to relax your muscles on the way down.

How To Do V Ups with Twist: 

  • Lie in a supine position (on your back) with your arms extended above your head.
  • Breathe in and engage your abs. 
  • In one motion, raise your legs while bringing your arms up, reaching for your toes. This should create a “V” shape with your body. 
  • Twist to the left side and then the right side, like you would when doing a Russian twist. 
  • Still engaging your core, slowly exhale while lowering yourself back to the starting position. 
  • Aim for 3 sets of 15 reps. 
V-Up Twist

5. Body Saw 

This variation of the standard plank is a simple yet highly effective core exercise. Adding motion means that your muscles need to work even harder to maintain proper form - making it a killer ab workout! 

This exercise isn't just great for working your abs, though; you'll also be working your oblique, tricep, shoulder, back, hamstring, quad, calf, and glute muscles. 

How To Do A Body Saw:

  • Start in a low plank position, resting on your elbows. 
  • Engage your core and maintain a flat back. 
  • Bring your body forward by shifting your weight from the balls of your feet to your toes. Your chin should be in-line with your hands. 

  • Next, shift your weight back onto the balls of your feet, bringing your chin in line with your inner elbow.  
  • Continue this motion, ensuring correct form throughout the exercise. 
  • Aim for 3-4 sets of 15 reps. 
Body Saw

6. Straight Leg Sit Up With Twist 

This exercise combines the benefits of a regular sit-up (which focuses primarily on the abs) with the benefits of a Russian twist (which also targets the obliques). Individuals with a weaker core will benefit most from this sit-up variation, as having a straight leg allows you to go through the full range of motion.

This beginner-friendly core workout is great because it doesn’t require additional equipment or a large amount of space to execute.  

How To Do A Straight Leg Sit Up with Twist:

  • Start in a supine position (on your back) with your hands behind your ears, like you would for a standard sit-up.  
  • Engage your core and raise your upper body. Ensure that you’re using your abs to do all of the work and avoid swinging your arms to help you up.  
  • At the top of the sit-up, keep your core engaged and twist to one side. 

  • In a slow, controlled manner, lower yourself back down. 
  • Repeat the movement, this time twisting toward the other side.  
  • Aim for 3 sets of 12 reps, 6 reps per side. 
Straight Leg Sit Up With Twist

7. Banded Scissor Kicks 

Also sometimes called "flutter kicks," scissor kicks help build your core strength and improve mobility of your hip flexors. This exercise not only targets your core, but also works your glute, quad, and adductor muscles. Adding a resistance band takes it up a notch by making your muscles work even harder, and it lets you target your obliques more too.

How To Do Banded Scissor Kicks: 

  • With a resistance band around your ankles, lay flat on your back. Position your arms at your sides and your palms facing down. 
  • Press your lower back into the floor to engage your core. Maintain this form for the duration of the workout. 
  • Raise your legs to a 45-degree angle (about 6 to 12 inches off the ground). 

  • Begin moving your legs in a "scissor" motion by lowering one leg while lifting the other.  
  • Next, reverse the motion and bring your bottom leg up while simultaneously lowering your top leg down.  
  • Continue this scissoring motion, alternating your legs for the duration of the set. 
  • Aim for 3 sets of 30 reps, 15 reps per leg. 
Banded Scissor Kicks

8. Single Arm Farmers Carry 

If you’ve got access to some weights, then this unilateral core exercise is for you! The benefit of using a single arm to execute a farmer's carry is that your core will be more engaged than if you were to use both arms.

Additionally, it works the obliques more since the weight is pulling one side of your body down and forcing you to counteract it to maintain a straight posture. While you will need a weight to perform this exercise, this can be a kettlebell, dumbbell, or even a bag loaded with books (provided that it has a handle). 

Suggested Equipment: 11 Best Kettlebells Reviewed (Rated For Versatile Workouts)

How To Do A Single Arm Farmers Carry:

  • Select a weight that is as heavy as you can manage to hold with one hand.  
  • Keep your arms straight and close to your body, engage your core, and stand tall.  
  • Walk forward, maintaining your posture for around 25 steps, or 30 seconds. 

  • Set the weight down, switch arms, and repeat. 
  • Aim for 4 sets of 50 steps, 25 steps per leg. 
Single Arm Farmers Carry

Muscles Worked During Side Plank Substitutes 

All of our side plank substitute exercises have a strong core focus. This means that your abs (also called the rectus abdominis), as well as your transverse abdominis, obliques (internal and external), multifidus, erector spinae, diaphragm, and pelvic floor muscles are all worked. Collectively, we call these muscles your major core muscles 

Core muscles are not only needed for supporting your spine and pelvis. They also assist with breathing, supporting your joints, balance, stability, and continence.  

In addition to these muscles, our alternative exercises also help to strengthen a range of muscles throughout your entire body. These include your forearms, biceps, triceps, lats (latissimus dorsi), traps (trapezius), delts (deltoids), gluteals, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calf muscles.  

Strengthening a wide variety of muscles helps to avoid muscle imbalances, as well as maintain good posture and joint mobility. 

Related Reading: 9 Abs Exercises That You Can Do Anywhere


Benefits of Alternative Exercises Rather Than Side Planking

There are many reasons why people should consider alternative exercises rather than side planking. While side planks are a great core workout, they do have their drawbacks.

These include causing shoulder pain, improper form when dropping your hips (which reduces your muscle engagement), allowing your head and neck to drop down (which can cause neck strain), and arching your back (which can strain your back muscles). 

Conversely, our alternative exercises allow you to target more specific muscles without the above-mentioned problems. In addition to this, side planks require you to bear your weight on a single shoulder. If you have an existing shoulder injury, this would mean you're not able to do the workout at all.

At least half of the alternative exercises on our list don't require shoulder strength, and they can be further customized to suit your needs or limitations. 

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Frequently Asked Side Plank Alternative Questions 

Is it OK to do planks every day? 

Yes, daily planking is safe to do, provided that you maintain the correct form. Planking helps to engage the core, including your transversus abdominis, rectus abdominis, and oblique muscles. Aim to hold your plank pose for 1 minute, ensuring proper form for the entire duration. 

Who should not do plank exercises? 

People with loose ligaments or joint instability should avoid doing plank exercises. Additionally, an incorrect form can place significant strain on your rib and shoulder joints. This can lead to costochondritis, an inflammation of the cartilage that connects the ribs to the breastbone, as well as shoulder tendonitis. Prioritize correct form over the length of time when doing plank exercises. 

Why are rolling side planks better than regular side planks? 

A rolling side plank involves movement, whereas a regular side plank is stationary. With this movement, you’re able to target your obliques through a larger range of motion, making it a better exercise compared to regular planks.  

Which exercise on our list is most difficult for beginners? 

The twisting hanging leg raise is undoubtedly one of the most challenging exercises on our list. If you're lacking in grip, shoulder, or abdominal strength, this exercise may be too challenging to execute. To make it easier, you can opt to use a captain's chair instead of hanging from a bar. This will allow you to still target your abs without having the required strength needed to hang.  


Conclusion

That wraps up our comprehensive guide to side plank alternatives. Now that you know the benefits of these alternatives and what muscles are targeted, you’ll be able to achieve your goals and build your strength without having to do a side plank. The eight substitutes provided will help you achieve a strong core in no time!

Paul J

Last Updated on September 7, 2022