Side Arm Balance/Side Plank Progression
Oftentimes, I get asked a question about form or something health/fitness related in my Team Fitness for Life Facebook group or an email from one of my team members. This usually leads to a long, drawn-out response from me, so I generally like to turn my responses into blogs so that I can then share with all of my readers (especially those who may not be on my team yet).
The other day, a member of my team asked about side arm balance form, and what they should be doing to become better at the exercise. Below is a list of "progressions" that can be used to help you build the required leg, hip, and core strength to accomplish such a difficult, yet important movement. These progressions can be applied to side planks, side arm balance push-ups, and glute exercises (like those seen in P90X3's Eccentric Lower, for example).
Here is my explanation on the progression:
Step 1 - The lower leg is bent, knee on the ground. Throughout all of the progressions listed, make sure that you are driving your hips forward, or in this case, I am driving my hips towards the camera by engaging my glutes (squeezing my butt cheeks). Not to the point that my hips are hyper-extended, but to the point where my body is straight. This helps strengthen the hip and knee of the upper leg while using the wider base of support created by the lower leg to maintain balance.
Step 2 - Both feet remain on the ground, but both legs are straight. The feet are staggered to, again, give a wider base of support for balance. This helps to not only strengthen the knees and hips, but will help you increase your spatial awareness (balance). Although your feet are staggered, make sure your hips stay square to the "camera" or perpendicular to the floor. Again, make sure the glutes are engaged, driving your hips forward.
Step 3 - Your feet are now stacked. This will definitely take some practice as your base of support is drastically diminished. By using the progressions from the previous 2 steps, you should have an idea on how to engage your core and your glutes to bring your hips forward. This is important to help you maintain balance. Now that your feet are stacked, more emphasis is now placed on your lower leg, increasing the intensity and forcing your lower knee and hip to become stronger.
Step 4 (and beyond) - The upper leg is now raised. It is probably no surprise to you to realize that this requires much great balance and control now that your upper leg is raised. Not only that, but more weight is now placed on your lower leg, forcing your knee and hip to become stronger. This will also work your upper leg in a different way, as the upper hip has to work harder to elevate your leg into the air. To take this a step further, you can turn your upper foot so that your toe is pointing towards the floor, which will engage your gluteus medius.