4 Fun Side Plank Variations
(And Tips for Incorporating Them Into a Flow)
by Kat Heagberg
Vasisthasana (side plank pose) has long been one of my favorite asanas to practice. It’s a wonderful preparation for more challenging arm balances, and as a vinyasa yogi, I particularly love its versatility when used for transitions. For instance, instead of always stepping forward into a lunge from down dog, I’ll often come into side plank, squeeze the knee of my top leg into my chest, spin onto the ball of my bottom foot, and then (with as much steadiness and control as I can muster!) step forward to lunge. This transition provides more of a balance and core challenge and can be a fun way to vary my movement on my mat.
Below are some side plank variations that I particularly like to incorporate into my practice and yoga classes, as well as tips for including them in a flow. But before we get too fancy, let’s review the more traditional side plank alignment, much of which is appropriate for the variations that follow.
There are many ways to come into side plank (directly from down dog or from a lunge, for example), but I often find that moving into it from plank pose is the simplest.
From downward facing dog, shift forward into plank, aligning your shoulders over your wrists and your heels over the balls of your feet (a.) (you may need to walk your feet back a little). Make sure your wrist creases are parallel to the front edge of your mat and your fingers are spread evenly and comfortably apart (not too wide). Gaze slightly forward. Press your finger pads and knuckles into the floor (like you’re pushing it away from you), and press the backs of your thighs up toward the ceiling without sticking your butt up in the air. Broaden across your chest and reach back through your inner heels.
From plank, pivot your heels to the right so that you’re on the pinky-toe side of your right foot and the big-toe side of your left foot, with your left heel in front of your right toes (b.). You can come up onto your left fingertips or bring your left hand to rest on your hip to begin. Check to ensure that the eye of your right elbow is pointing toward the space between your right thumb and index finger.
Once you’ve found that alignment, you can place (or keep) your left hand on your hip (c.) or reach your left arm up to the sky. Push your right hand into the floor to lift up out of your right shoulder (don’t sink into your right shoulder or allow it to roll forward).
You can keep your left foot on the floor or stack it on top of your right (d.), keeping just a little bit of space between your heels (this will help to keep your hips facing to the side [straight ahead] instead of rolling up to the ceiling). Gaze down, straight ahead, or up toward your left hand, whichever feels best for your neck. Stay for five breaths, and then return to plank and repeat on the other side.
Side-bendy Side Plank
This variation is similar to wild thing, but with a side bend instead of a backbend (and it tends to be a little kinder to the shoulders than wild thing). It’s also a great first step for transitioning into wild thing, but I think it’s a pretty cool pose in its own right as well.
Begin by coming into side plank on your right side, as described above. Bend your left knee, and lightly rest the ball of your left foot on the floor behind your right leg.
Reach your left arm alongside your ear as you would in side angle pose, spinning the pinky side of your hand down toward the floor. Gaze down, forward, or toward your left hand. Stay and enjoy the stretch along the left side of your body for five breaths.
To come out of the pose, you can move into plank or down dog, though personally, I love to transition into a lunge or standing pose from this variation! One way to do this is to simply plant your left hand in the same position as you would to come into plank or down dog, reach your left leg back into a three-legged dog, and then step your left foot forward into a lunge.
You can also bend your left knee into your chest and then step your left foot forward into a lunge right from your side-bendy side plank. Once I’ve bent my knee into my chest, I like to hold on to the pinky-toe side of my left foot, letting go just as I step my left foot forward. It can be kind of a tricky transition at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a lot of fun!
Rockstar With a Kick
Okay, so this is kind of a variation of a variation. Rockstar itself is a version of side plank that people tend to love or hate (though to be fair, I know plenty of people who just hate that it’s called “rockstar”).
I tend to fall into the “love” category (and I’ll take any chance to feel like a rockstar that I can get!), but I love it even more when I add in a strengthening component via the kick. (Note that this variation is also an excellent prep for the arm balance visvamitrasana!)
Begin in downward dog. On an inhale, lift your right leg up into a three-legged dog. On an exhale, bend your right knee and bring it across your body, toward your left upper arm. Keep your knee here as you spin your left foot to the floor, toes pointing to the left. Bring your left hand to your right shin and see if you can hug your knee a little closer to your chest (a.).
Now, keeping your bent knee in toward you, release your shin. Then, instead of straightening your right leg and lowering the pinky-toe side of your right foot to the floor (as you would in your typical rockstar side plank), kick your right foot straight out to the right without lowering your leg. Then, reach your left arm up to the sky (b.). Stay for a few breaths, gazing down, forward, or toward your left hand, aiming to keep your right foot lifted away from the floor (try not to let it drop!).
To come out of the pose, plant your left hand, bend your right knee into your chest, and step back to downward dog. Or if you’re incorporating this into a flow, you could plant your left hand, squeeze your right knee into your chest, and then step your right foot forward into a lunge to transition into a standing pose.
Kneeling Vasisthasana B Variation
This is a great prep for, or alternative to, vasisthasana B (in which you bind the big toe or hold the pinky edge of the foot of the top leg and then straighten the leg, aiming the sole of the foot toward the ceiling), and it can actually provide a greater balance challenge than the “full” expression of the pose!
Note: For more of a balance challenge, keep your right shin parallel to the long edge of your mat. For less of a balance challenge, allow your right shin to be on more of a diagonal (as pictured below).
Begin in a kneeling side plank position with your right knee down and your left leg extended. If I’m incorporating this variation into a flow, I will usually come from downward facing dog, bending my right knee into my chest and gently lowering my right shin to the floor, then spinning my left foot to the floor (as some people would for gate pose). If you come into the pose this way, you will probably have to adjust your right hand or knee (maybe walking your hand a little more toward the top of your mat and/or your knee a little more toward the back of your mat) to find the alignment that’s the most stable for you, with your bottom wrist directly below or just slightly in front of your bottom shoulder. Make sure your right elbow crease is pointing toward the space between your right thumb and index finger, and that you do not sink into your right shoulder or allow it to roll forward.
From here, bend your left knee and place your left foot on the floor in front of your right shin. Lift your left foot away from the floor and take hold of the pinky-toe side of your left foot with your left hand, drawing your left knee toward your left shoulder. (You could also bend your left knee in toward you and catch hold of the foot right from your kneeling side plank, but stepping the foot forward on the floor first can help with balance.) Stay open across your chest and keep both shoulders rolling back. You can remain here or straighten your left leg out in front of you, as you did in rockstar with a kick, except this time you’re holding on to the foot (a.).
Remain here, or if your hamstrings are up for it, lift your left leg up to the sky, externally rotating your left thigh and bringing the sole of your left foot to face the ceiling (b.). Keep pressing your right hand into the floor. Gaze down, forward, or up toward your left hand. Stay in whichever variation you’ve chosen for five breaths.
To come out of the pose, bend your left knee (if it’s not already bent), place the sole of your left foot on the floor, and then come onto hands and knees. If you’re incorporating this variation into a flow, you might move into downward facing dog from there.
Another way to include this variation in a vinyasa flow is to come out of the pose by bending your left knee and then stepping your left foot and then your right foot forward to come into malasana (garland pose/squat) at the top of your mat. From there, you might step one leg back into a lizard lunge or plant your hands to step or jump back to downward dog or move into ardha pasasana (half noose pose) and then maybe rise up into eka pada malasana (one-legged garland pose). There are so many possibilities!
Side Angle Hover
This strength-building side plank variation provides an extra challenge for your obliques and is an excellent preparatory pose for arm balances like visvamitrasana and eka pada bakasana (one-legged crow pose). It’s kind of like side angle pose, but with the bottom foot hovering off the ground (hence the name) and the heel squeezing in toward the sit bone.
In my experience, the easiest way to come into it is to begin in plank pose (a.). On an inhale, lift your right foot away from the floor. On an exhale, bend your right knee, bringing it to touch (or come as close as it can to touching) your right upper arm (b.). Keeping your right knee where it is, spin your left foot to the floor as you would do to come into side plank on the right side, pivoting your left heel to the left (c.). Bring your left hand to your hip, or reach your left arm up to the sky, gazing toward your bottom hand, straight ahead, or up toward your top hand (d.).
Try your best to keep your right knee from sliding down, and keep squeezing your right heel toward your right buttock.
Stay for five breaths. To come out of the pose, plant your left hand, and come onto the ball of your left foot. From there, you could step your right foot forward into a lunge, transition to downward facing dog, or simply return to plank pose and repeat on the second side.
You can also come into this variation from side angle pose (which I personally find way more challenging!). To do this, you’ll need to begin in side angle with your right foot forward and your right hand on the inside of your right leg, palm flat on the floor. Bring your left hand to your left hip, gaze toward your bottom hand, and scoot your right foot back until you can lift it away from the floor(!), squeezing it in toward your right buttock. Reach your top arm up and, as with the previous variation, look down, forward, or up.
To explore simpler variations of side plank, including ways to modify for wrist and shoulder issues, see Jessica Stickler’s article 5 Ways to Practice Side Plank.