When teaching side plank yoga pose to beginners I like to use a step-by-step approach. The first step is to learn how to use the shoulder.
To make learning to use the shoulder easier I use a very easy variation of side plank, with both knees bent and the elbow of the supporting arm bent also.
The action is to use the shoulder to lift the ribcage and then relax the shoulder so that the ribcage sinks back down.
This action uses the serratus anterior muscle.
Note that instead of lifting the pelvis, the goal is to only lift the ribcage. That means that there is less weight for the shoulder to lift making this action easier to do.
The next step is to learn how to use the hip. In this case the knees are still bent. After first activating the shoulder to lift the ribcage, next press the bottom knee down into the floor to lift the pelvis.
You may notice a feeling of "muscle activation" at the side of the bottom most hip and maybe even along the outside of the bottom-most thigh. Slowly lower, then relax the shoulder and repeat.
Note that you don't have to lift your pelvis all the way up. You could focus on gradually increasing knee pressure to the point that your hip is just about to lift off of the floor. You could then add just enough pressure to lift your hip an inch off of the floor. Then touch it back down to the floor. Pause before relaxing.
Here's a view from the back.
The next step is to try it with knees straight. The elbow can still be kept bent.
As before, first use the shoulder to lift the ribcage.
Next, activate the feet in such a way that the the blade of the bottom foot presses into the floor. This can feel like you are "stiffening" the foot. Press the bottom leg downwards so that if it isn't already, then the bottom foot presses into the floor. Then lift the pelvis off of the floor. Be sure to keep the bottom foot strong and stable so that balancing is easier.
As with lifting the hips with knees bent, you can first press the foot down just enough that the side of the hip and/or leg only lightly touches the floor. Then lift the hip an inch off of the floor. Pause, touch the hip down, then relax.
Onc you can balance easily with the hip just an inch off of the floor, and once your shoulder and leg are used to supporting the weight of your body, you can work at gradually lifting your hips higher while keeping the shoulder active.
Rather than trying to do the next version of side plank with both knees and elbow straight, we can do it with the elbow straight and knees bent first.
The feeling is slightly different than with the elbow bent and an additional action that you can do after activating the shoulder is to rotate the arm externally so that the point of the elbow points towards the space between the hand and knees (below)
From here, lift the hip by pressing the knee down as before.
One additional action that I would suggest when doing side plank yoga pose with the knees straight is bending the spine towards the supporting arm. So if the right arm is supporting the body then bend the spine to the right as in the picture above.
This seems to make it easier to use the shoulder of the supporting arm.
In the first picture below I have the supporting arm straight and the knees straight but my spine is straight. In the second picture (red shirt) my spine is bent downwards (notice how the right side of my ribcage and waist is more "open.")
Note that also in the first picture my hand is further to the side (with respect to my shoulder). This too can make a difference in how you use your shoulder.
For balance in this position make sure that you keep the feet active and the entire outer edge of the bottom foot pressing into the floor.
To make it easier to use the shoulder to support your body, try expanding your ribcage and lengthening your neck. In addition, externally rotate the supporting arm.
If you feel yourself going out of balance, then move your hips to compensate. If the heel of your bottom foot gets light your weight is shifting forwards. So compensate by moving your hips rearwards.
If the front of your bottom foot gets light on the floor, your weight is shifting rearwards. So compensate by moving your hips forwards.
For more on learning to stabilize your shoulder blades read scapular awareness.
For more on shoulder awareness, flexibility and control read the ebook shoulder yoga.
Friction and pressure are two simple techniques that I use to help my students get stronger and more flexible. These simple techniques also offer a roadway into not only learning how to activate your muscles, but getting a feel for them and your body. Three challenging yoga poses that I use these techniques in are chaturanga, front splits and side splits. While they might not help you get all the way down into the splits, they'll help you feel stronger, and more integrated as you work towards them. And because I've got to pay for my daughters schooling this week, I'm offering a discount on the frictional muscle control videos. (First 100 people only can save over 30%).
Active stretching teaches you muscle control to not only improve flexibility but also body awareness. You'll learn how to adjust postures for better feel as well as more control through a broader range of motion.
Standing exercises for low back pain plus anatomy that can affect the low back and how to use that anatomical understanding.
Experience your body (and understand it) with sensational yoga poses.
Is it a bad idea to heel strike while barefoot running? What are the possible benefits of heel striking? When should you not heel strike?
These yoga poses for abs work on the abdominal muscles (and hips) in both standing positions and seated positions.
Sensational yoga poses, lessons to help you enjoy the experience of your body.
Here are the Ashtanga Standing Pose Vinyassas, with inhale movements highlighted in red.
These seated yoga poses have been organized into a rough routine and include lotus, virasana, janu sirsasana and marichyasana variations as well as more basic seated poses like bound angle, pigeon and seated forward bend.
In this preparation for compass pose use your arms to pull your leg towards you for a seated hamstring stretch. To modify, use a strap.
Single joint hip flexors include iliacus, pectineus, obturators, gemelli and gluteus minimus. Use them to help improve your forward bends.
Sensational Yoga ebooks and videos are designed to help you experience your body while focusing on specific poses, actions or parts of the body.
Extreme stability teaches you how to work from the ground up when creating stability, whether you are doing poses on your hands or your feet (or some combination of both).
The working towards wheel pose ebook teaches you basic body first so that you can feel and control your spine, hips and shoulders, so that working towards difficult poses (in this case wheel pose) is easier.
The Muscle control for better flexibility ebook teaches you simple muscle activation techniques that can make it easier to improve your flexibility. Techniques focus on forward and back bending the hips but can be applied to other movements also.
Building up on the material for part 1, Yoga for Beginners 2 teaches you how to make your body stable for a slightly different experience of your hips and shoulders.
Video: This set of simple hip control exercises help you to stabilize the hip joint and control it. You may find these exercises help you improve hamstring and hip flexor strength and flexibility.
One approach to learning yoga is to simply practice yoga poses. The approach in Yoga For Beginners 1 is to help you to learn to feel your body while doing yoga poses.
Some of the exercises in Balance Basics includes learning to balance on the fronts of your feet as well as on one foot using weight shifting exercises. It also includes exercises for crow pose. I've included videos based on the balanace exercises in the book on this page.