side plank clam shell

Side Plank Clam and Side Plank Hip Abduction Exercises

side plank clam shellThere is no doubt that the core and pelvis intricately work together to produce spine and pelvic mobility and stability.  Most of us tend to focus on both core stabilization and hip mobility and strength separately, at least initially in the program.   But we should also consider working them simultaneously.

In this model, I tend to emphasize exercises that require core stability and hip strengthening exercises.  This is a major concept in what I have always referred to as Functional Stability Training (get ready, you are going to be hearing that a lot more from me in the next several months).  Many of the basic exercises we already routinely perform achieve this goal, even if indirectly.  Bird dogs and bridges come to mind, for example.  Both exercises require core stabilization while performing hip movements, although fairly basic in regard to challenge.


Side Plank Hip Abduction Exercise

Recently I have seen the incorporation of side planks and hip abduction on various websites around the web.  That is a great example of the type of Functional Stability Training i am referring to here, simple stated:

[box]Train the core to stabilize while simultaneously incorporating hip mobility and strengthening exercises[/box]

Performing side lying hip abduction from a side plank position achieves this well.  However, I should note that I see many people recommending that we perform this up against a wall.  By doing this, you essentially are putting training wheels on the exercise and using the wall to help perform the side plank and abduction movements with proper form.  To me, if you need the wall, you are not ready for the exercise.

This simultaneous incorporation of spine stability and hip mobility is not a beginner exercise.  One should be able to perform each exercise perfectly as individual exercises prior to performing them together.


Side Plank Clam Shell Exercise

In addition to the side plank and hip abduction exercise, I also often perform a side plank and clam shell exercise.  I have talked about the many benefits of the hip clam shell exercise and why I think it is so important to include in our programs.  This is the next progression of the exercise in my mind, but in order to perform it well, you need to master both the clam shell exercise and the side plank exercise.


Video of the Side Plank with Hip Clam Shell and Abduction

Here is a video demonstration of the side plank with hip clam shells and with hip abduction exercises:


Here is another view of the side plank with clam shell exercise from my friend Masai Takahashi, who showed me how he likes to incorporate the clam shell into his side planks.  He is pretty advanced and includes a resistance band around his knees:


A few things to notice in the video:

  • The clam shell exercise is performed while performing the side plank from the knees, making this one a little easier at first and probably a good place to start.  Not that when performing the side plank from the knees, you need to make sure your hips move forward and your body is in alignment, as Masai demonstrates well.
  • The hip abduction exercise is performed with the legs straight.
  • The most important aspect of these exercises is maintaining core stability.  Your body should perform the plank and be able to keep the core stabilized.  If you can’t keep your form during the plank, you shouldn’t progress to include hip movements.
  • The second most important aspect is to assure you are using good hip form without compensating by rotating or losing core stability.
  • These exercises can be progressed by added weight or resistance bands around the legs


Remember, these exercises are not for beginners.  They require pristine form on both the side plank and hip exercises individually.  This is a key component to Functional Stability Training:

[box]If you can not perform these exercises individually, you should not progress to perform them simultaneously.[/box]

Try the side plank exercise with hip clam shells and hip abduction exercises, I think you’ll be surprised at how challenging this is for both core stability and hip strengthening.


11 replies
  1. carrie
    carrie says:

    Just curious what the difference is in doing the clam shell at 45 deg of hip flexion vs neutral? I always start my pts out at 45 deg which seems to be easier than hips in neutral. I assume you have more stability w/ hips at 45 deg vs neutral. Also seeing the clam performed w/ full ankle DF which makes it more difficult. Any thoughts?


  2. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    Hi Mike,
    I’ve been following your column for a few months while I get the rust cleared off of my outpatient physical therapy brain so, first of all, thanks for making this information available for all of us.
    My first tool for transitioning to OP is to go through the Polestar Pilates Comprehensive program and this kind of exercise is what we call core control with hip disassociation – it’s something you find in almost every Pilates type of exercise! My question/comment is that since the side plank and plank, when done correctly, are focusing on our deep abdominals like transvere abdominus, internal and external obliques (basically our postural muscles) shouldn’t we be firing them for longer than 8-10 seconds? I would say they could be firing, in an ideal world, almost continuously for all of our waking, upright hours. I agree that the rectus only needs to fire 8-10 seconds for additional stabilization but I think a proper plank or side plank will be focused much more on deep abs then the rectus.

    • Mike Reinold
      Mike Reinold says:

      Michelle, thanks for the note and good thoughts. Yes, a lot of this has roots in pilates! I agree.

      In regard to the 8-10 seconds, this is based of McGill research that showed that longer depletes the muscles of oxygen and builds up lactic acid.

      I do agree with you, however. I think the difference is low level activity (like during the day as you mention) and more moderate activity. I dont think we need to hold a moderate to large effort brace for that long as this isnt really functional anyway. You still build up your total time, so instead of progressing to 60 second holds, you progress to 6 reps of 10 second holds. With barely a break, just reset.

      This is more how we function anyway, when we perform a forceful movement or activity we brace briefly during and then relax.

      I think you are correct for low level contractions. For example I do practice bracing and breathing. To breath, your effort on the brace has to go down to a more normal rate during daily living. This I have people hold for longer than 10 seconds.

      Hope this made sense and I didn’t babble too much on this reply…

  3. John
    John says:

    This is an area I have been contemplating as well. I think another way to build endurance would be to work to a 1:1 work:rest ratio for endurance training. Especially because the targeted area is highly type 1 fibers.

  4. Mike Reinold
    Mike Reinold says:

    Rob, if you believe in what McGill teaches, you should only hold 8-10 seconds. After that you just build up lactic acid in the muscles and start to compensate, defeating the purpose. To develop endurance, add reps to the holds with only a pause in between.

    Makes sense to me too, not sure if we need to train to hold our abs tight for 60 seconds at a time functionally.

  5. Ron Burns
    Ron Burns says:

    Mike, how long should a person be able to hold a side plank with good form before you would say they have mastered it and are ready to progress to the above exercises (assuming they had perfected the clam as well)?

  6. Peter W Roberts
    Peter W Roberts says:

    Thanks Mike that is definitely on of those why the hell didn’t i come up with that progression moments. Teaching the teachers with ideas that work.

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