Exercises You Should Be Doing: Copenhagen Side Plank Shenanigans

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Just to get the obvious question out of the way: I have ZERO idea why the Copenhagen Side Plank is called what it is. My educated guess is it’s not because it was popularized in Detroit.

In THIS article, though, via Carl Valle, he notes the origin of the exercise is a bit of a mystery, but that the Danes have most of the acclaim directed toward them because they’re the ones responsible for much of the most recent research on groin injuries in sport.

Fair enough.

Side Planks Are “Okay”

Regular plain ol’ side planks – you know, the ones you see Karen or Jim perform at your local gym – are fine. There’s indeed a myriad of efficacious uses for the exercise; especially for those dealing with chronic low back pain.

The world’s most renowned low back researcher, Dr. Stuart McGill, has belabored this point for the better part of the past two decades, most notably in his seminal books Low Back Disorders, Ultimate Back Fitness & Performance, and, for the TL;DR crowd, Back Mechanic.

In Short: The side plank provides a splendid opportunity to target the lateral obliques and quadratus lumborum in an ISOMETRIC fashion. Much of McGill’s research backs up the idea that isometric exercises to enhance muscular endurance are in favor over dynamic, more traditional strength & conditioning exercises in improving spinal stiffness and stability.

Too, because there are two sides of the body – left and right (SPOILER ALERT) – using the standard side plank to compare discrepancies between both sides is a powerful assessment tool.

If someone can smoke their left side, yet can barely perform ten seconds on their right without breaking form…

…it may provide some important information and a pertinent starting point in terms of rehab.

That said.

I’m not a fan of plank variations that go on and on and on and on.

I don’t have enough eye rolls to give for people who “brag” about their insane five-minute planks holds.

First off: No one gives two flying fucks about a five-minute plank hold. You may as well brag about your ability to perform a cartwheel, or, I don’t know, your proficiency in long division.

Seriously, no one cares.

Secondly, most people’s form turns into utter garbage after the 60 second mark and with it…

…all benefits of the exercise.

I much prefer to make plank variations more challenging than just tacking on time for the sake of more time.

Oh, Hello Copenhagen Side Plank(s)

: In addition to the link provided above, I’d also encourage you to check out THIS article from Nick Tumminello if you want to partake in a deeper dive in just how badass Copenhagen Side Planks are.

Just as a heads up, not only are they great for people with low back pain but they’re also fantastic for:

  • Adductor strengthening (if you work with athletes, especially hockey & soccer players, this is key).
  • Knee strengthening (I actually use Copenhagens a lot with clients attempting to work around knee pain. Much of this ties in with strengthening the adductors)

There’s a bevy of variations to consider here, but two of my go to’s are highlighted in the video above.

1. Copenhagen  Side Plank w/ Leg Lift

There’s really nothing fancy here. As is the case with any plank variation, think: Abs on, glutes on. From there don’t just think about haphazardly lifting the bottom leg towards the top.

Do that.

But ALSO think about driving or pushing the knee of the top leg INTO the bench or table.

At the top SQUEEZE your knees together, hard.

And then CONTROL the lowering portion.

2. Copenhagen Side Plank w/ Low Leg Driver

Take all the cues from above and now bend the knee of the bottom leg 90 degrees and then move the same leg into hip flexion/extension; without allowing your pelvis to lower or dip.

Tip: if you want to keep yourself honest, place something like a glass of water or yoga block underneath the bottom leg. If at any point your leg knocks over “the thing,” you suck at life and should be ashamed of yourself.

Basically you’ve besmirched your family name.

150 points from Gryfindor.

Tip #2: Many articles advocate for trainees to place the ankle (of the top leg) on the table or bench, so that the legs are completely straight. I’m not a fan of this because it places a lot of unnecessary strain on the medial component of the knee out of the gate.

Notice in the video how my knee is supported by the table?

Start there.

You can progress to less “support” as you gain more proficiency with the exercise.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Comments for This Entry

  • Nishant Pandey

    A much-needed exercise for someone like me. Thank you so much, Tony. I will be eternally grateful for this!

    May 22, 2020 at 1:25 am | Reply to this comment

  • Dan Poundall

    Hi Tony great read... Completely agree with you about the 5 minute plank hold. Waste of time and energy. Quick question... What would you say the hardest variation of the plank is to increase core engagement. I always find that positioning my elbows as far forward as possible takes the difficulty of plank to a whole new level. What Ill then do is attempt to draw my elbow and feet closer together to further activate my core. Would love to hear your thoughts on this... Dan

    May 25, 2020 at 12:05 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Angelina Brown

    The Copenhagen Hold is a unique plank variation that specifically targets the musculature of the inner groin. It can be further progressed with partner-resisted and suspension trainer variations. While considered one of the most neglected exercises in strength training, extreme caution needs to be taken in trying it out at home, without an instructor.

    May 29, 2020 at 9:03 am | Reply to this comment

  • Frank Looper

    Good articles! Those who think that the side plank is boring, well, you clearly haven’t tried the endless number of side plank variations. Try all!

    June 10, 2020 at 5:23 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Chris

    Great variations! I would definitely try them. Thanks a lot for sharing!

    June 12, 2020 at 8:05 am | Reply to this comment

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