The whole point in performing any variation of planks is to strengthen your core and tone your abs.
However, many trainees tend to avoid side planks as they’re worried that it’s going to make their waist bigger.
But is this actually true?
Bodyweight side planks will NOT make your waist bigger. The obliques are like any other muscle in the body. So, in order for them to grow you need to use heavy weights, while ensuring you’re eating well with plenty of lean protein. Therefore, performing side planks with just your body weight, or even some light resistance will actually help to make your waist look smaller and tighter.
The Truth About Side Planks (& ALL Ab Exercises)
Okay, firstly let me repeat, side planks will definitely not make your waist bigger.
That being said, it’s important to remember that the abs and obliques are muscles just like any other muscle in the body.
Therefore, if you train these “muscles” with heavy weights, eat well especially with lots of lean protein, you have the ability to make your muscles grow bigger.
This is absolutely no different to training your legs, back, chest, shoulders, biceps, etc.
So, training your abs and obliques with heavy weights will tend to make them stick out more, simply because they now have more muscle mass.
In fact, I remember a time when I was training my abs with heavy weights, which actually made my abs look more cut and defined.
However, as soon as I put a top on it looked as though I had a big tummy, or that my stomach was sticking out.
But, this was simply due to the fact that I had built muscle mass on my abs.
This is all well and good if you’re training for actual ab muscle, which many people do.
But, if you’re simply looking for a more defined, tight, and ripped waistline, you certainly don’t need to add weight to your ab training.
I also think that many people worry about side planks and other ab exercises making their stomach larger when they look at professional trainees.
In fact, you’ll often see bodybuilders and especially powerlifters with big bellies.
However, this typically comes down to how they train and the use of the valsalva manoeuvre, which requires you to constantly force your stomach out.
Plus, let’s not forget the effects of performance-enhancing drugs on their physiques.
But, as I’ve said, if you’re doing side planks with just your body weight or using light weights, but still training for muscular endurance, you don’t have to worry about your stomach suddenly expanding.
The Popular Oblique Exercise That WILL Make Your Waist Bigger
Now, there is actually one extremely popular oblique exercise that should be avoided, and that has the potential to make your stomach look bigger.
I’m of course talking about side dips or side bends.
This is where you take a dumbbell in one hand and bend down to the side for a certain number of reps and then repeat on the other side.
However, once more, this comes down to how much weight you’re using.
But, doing side bends with heavy weights will build muscle, so this can lead to your obliques sticking out.
In fact, heavy side bends are likely to produce that box or block-look you’re potentially trying to avoid.
Personally, I feel performing standard side planks, and variations of the exercise, will train your abs and obliques just fine.
Plus, you don’t have to worry about your ab muscles protruding from heavy weight training.
Common Side Plank Mistakes
So, now that we’ve established that side planks can help you produce a great set of abs and obliques, there are also certain things you should be wary of.
Just like any other exercise, if you make certain mistakes when performing side planks you won’t get the full benefit.
One of the most important aspects of side planks is to keep a straight line through your joints from shoulder to ankle.
However, I’ll go into more detail on this in a moment.
That being said, you also need to ensure that your posture is perfectly aligned during side planks.
This involves contracting your abs, glutes, and quads, while ensuring that your chest is puffed out.
Nevertheless, I often see people lose this posture during side planks.
And this is usually noticeable when your head comes round and you end up looking at your feet.
As soon as you do this you’re no longer engaging your core and you’re putting a lot of stress onto your back.
Dropping Into Your Shoulder
Another common mistake is “dropping into the shoulder”.
This is most noticeable when your elbow is no longer directly below your armpit.
Essentially, your upper arm is at an angle rather than completely straight.
Once again, dropping into your shoulder will mean that you’ll lose that alignment from your shoulder to your ankle.
This position also places a lot of stress on the neck and back.
Hips Too Low or Too High
Your hips play an important role in any type of plank.
And you’ll often find that allowing your hips to drop or raising them too high with standard planks can cause lower back pain.
The exact same can be said with side planks.
If your hips drop too low, it’s likely that you’re not contracting your abs and glutes.
Then again, this can point to abdominal weakness.
If your hips are too high this usually occurs as you’re trying to compensate for sagging hips.
Once more, you must ensure that you have proper joint alignment when side planking.
Losing The Line
Finally, most importantly, and something I’ve already mentioned countless times, keeping perfect joint alignment.
What I actually mean by this is that your shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle should form a straight line.
Of course, the “line” is angled downwards, but your joints should always be perfectly lined up during side planks.
Frequently you may find that you lose this straight line from above, whereby you rotate your torso too far forwards or too far back.
Plus, you can lose the line in the bottom half of the body when your hips push too far forward or too far back.
Basically, as soon as you lose this line from shoulder to ankle you are no longer effectively engaging your abs and core.
And it’s likely you’re putting undue stress on other muscles and joints.
Key Learning Points
- No, side planks will not make your waist bigger.
- The abs and obliques are muscles, and will therefore grow in the same way as other muscles.
- You should train with heavy weights, while ensuring that your nutrition is on-point to build larger ab and oblique muscles.
- If you use heavy weights when training abs it’s more likely that they will “stick out”.
- Avoid side bends/dips with heavy weights especially, as they can build muscle in the obliques, giving you that block-waist look.
- When performing side planks, always maintain a straight line through your shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.