With the promise of a redefined, sculpted seat and lean hip area, fitness programs like barre and Pilates have topped the list for years for those seeking such results. What is the magic formula? Is it the high repetition load and small intrinsic movements of barre or the “quality and precision of movement over quantity” low repetition strategy of Pilates that claims a longer, leaner and stronger physique?
Ask devotees from both sides and you will hear explanations defending the results oriented reputation of each of these movement disciplines. Having taught both modalities, I can assure you that to gain the most benefit from side lying hip and seat (butt) exercises, there are a few imperative steps that can help participants achieve success. Kinesthetic awareness and proprioception of the side of your body, core stabilization and a sense of opposition and resistance within the leg/hip complex while in motion are critical for success in side lying.
When participants are asked to lie on their sides in any fitness regimen, all awareness of how they are organize their bodies in space seems to go downhill. Why you ask? Perhaps a simple answer is that we spend the majority of our time on our sides during our sleep phase or when we are casually lounging around reading or watching a movie. Secondly, there also tends to be one side of our body that stabilizes with more efficiency while the opposite side may offer better range of motion and movement precision. And lastly, as humans, we are curious creatures, and when asked to lie on our sides and exercise, the head often falls forward in an attempt to visually align the hip and leg rather than use interoception to sense the body’s position without looking.
A well proportioned side lying position that will enhance any hip and seat work mimics the arrangement of the torso in the yoga asana Tadasana or Mountain Pose, but positioned on its side and depending on the exercise, variable leg positions may be required. Simply put, even on your side there is an attempt to elongate that natural curves of the spine ultimately aiming for symmetry on all sides. If your head is positioned on its side (resting on the floor or small block) the nose, sternum and pubic bone should align with the two pelvic bones, which are joint stacked vertically on top of one another – (hip stacked over hip). Often, the underside or side seam of the body in contact with the floor is a real blind spot for people, and they are not able to contract, engage, and/or lengthen the lateral core musculature. This hinders hip, seat and leg work, making it ineffective. As with any exercise, strength must come hand in hand with stability to be the most efficient.
If it is challenging to organize yourself while on your side and stabilize your core muscles, then lifting and lowering your leg up and down for a million repetitions hoping to “feel the burn” that will change the shape of your hips by the end of class may simply be disaster. Momentum may be the “go to” strategy to make it through the exercise, and muscles other than your hip and abdominals may bear the brunt of your efforts (back and neck pain, anyone?).
Check back Friday for Part 2 on what you can do to awaken and stabilize your side body along with a great YTU hip exercise!
Enjoyed this article? Read Best YTU Poses, Bar None, for your Barre Body
Great eye opener -I think I need to spend more time horizontally!
I’ve been struggling with my cues in side-lying positions. You’re so right, my students lose all sense of themselves and use their eyes to see where they are in space, rather than perceive.
This sentence was helpful for me, as is your post on ‘golden hips’ that details using a wall:
” If your head is positioned on its side (resting on the floor or small block) the nose, sternum and pubic bone should align with the two pelvic bones, which are joint stacked vertically on top of one another – (hip stacked over hip)”
I’ll reintroduce these ideas with your clarity!
When I read this sentence ” head often falls forward in an attempt to visually align the hip and leg rather than use interoception to sense the body’s position without looking”, I thought “this is so me”! I really need to work on my propoception when lying on my side. And now, I realise that this is the first step I should take before trying to add movement too quick. I’ll remember to “be the student of my body”!
Too true! how easily I loose my core when laying on my side! thanks for the tips!
Side seam postures are a favorite of mine but not because they’re easy! I’m constantly working to find balance from head to toe (my head is always in the wrong place – so hard to propriocept its position!) while working to balance the asymmetries in my muscles. I love the side seam openers like Boomerang, Parighasana and Savasana with Side Bend – but while the flexibility of opening the side body first attracted me, I know it’s the strengthening of these sides that I need! Thanks for your post – I’m teaching Parighasana today and it’s giving me good food for thought!
I love this line: “As with any exercise, strength must come hand in hand with stability to be the most efficient.” It seems obvious but in practice stability is sacrificed for strength all the time. I especially like that you mentioned the correlation between sleeping and side position. I am a side sleeper and in that position who likes to flex and adduct one hip so that is lying across the other, definitely not in alignment. I have started experimenting with placing pillows under the flexed knee to offer support and keep as much congruency in the hips as possible.
I didn’t realize till recently how difficult it is to stay in alignment while lying on my side. Thanks for your post, I will certainly keep it in mind next time Im lounging around watching tv, or while doing exercises to strengthen the side of my hip.
Having scoliosis, I have worked very hard to straighten my vertebral column. I am aware that one side doesn’t stabilize as well as the other – I never thought about the fact that it may have less to do with the scoliosis and more to do with just being an average vertically oriented person. TIme to spend more time getting horizontal!
I love the blind spot light bulb moment fitness instructors doing strength. As a former fitness/dance instructor, when doing stregnth routine on the floor, I would use the analogy of laying on our sides, pretend you are a moray eel swimming sideways, keeping everything straight alingment from head to toe. I absolutely agree it works your abdominals more with obliques and the quadratus lombardum, rather that the hip. Thank you for thinking the blind spot the lower hip
Side lying work is indeed tricky, I find that the alignment of my shoulders and head can present more of a challenge then my torso, hips and legs. There are several cheat stratagies that students will use in side lying position. I would appreciate your breakdown of common cheats and how to address them.
YTU is amazing at pointing out “blind spots”. Can’t wait to read your next post.
This was a timely post for me! I just finished Day 2 of the YTU Level One training, and we did a side lying pose. Although I practice yoga, there are few poses that I teach in that side lying position. I discovered some body blind spots for sure! It was difficult for me to stablilize my core and not roll backwards, and assist from a fellow student made all the difference. I plan to practice this pose to develop more stability and awareness. Thank you!
I always thought I was the only one not liking to be on my side. I have hard time balancing on my hip and just feel awkward. I guess I should work on it more keeping in mind the alignment principals.
Thank you for making me aware of the importance of kinesthetic awareness and proprioception of the side of your body, core stabilization and a sense of opposition and resistance within the leg/hip complex (while in motion), to benefit from the exercises done in a side lying position.
To explane to my students how a good side laying looks like I usually ask them to stand tall next to the wall with one arm up. See how It looks and do the same laying.
A wide variety of muscles in the torso engage to maintain the curves of the spine in relantionship to the pull of gravity..and the tubular core and the pelvic Floor are two elemtens very important to realize a neutral but stabile posture.
Yes it is challenging to balance your body lying down on one side. Thank you for giving us alignment marker – nose, sternum and pubic bone are on one line, which requires more of core engagement. Putting a block and a folded blanket under your head in this pose is a great suggestion.
I have also found it stunning how discombobulated students look when they try to lie on their sides – and you’re right, they go into their sleeping position. Having an awareness of which is the more stable side is so useful for continued work. Looting forward to part 2.
I read this article and immediately thought of the tubular core. We talked extensively about this and proprioception in my Level 1 Yoga Tune-Up training the last two days. We did a couple exercises on our sides today and Sarah immediately told us before movement to find our tubular core. The support of our core muscles is critical to any movement, but when in side lying position we are able to easily feel the tubular core once activated. Confused? Contract your core muscles (contract with tension) and palpate your core muscles. You will be able to feel them working for you.
YTU class today definitely brought awareness to my tubular core while attempting Vastisthasana. I like the idea of aiming to elongate the spine while organizing all the tissue around it equally. That in counjuction with stacking nose, sternum, and pubic bone gives me more tools to give it a go once again, and again, and again.
A favourite cue of mine for side lying postures is to visualise an ice-cube under your waist, it gives just enough of a “cinch” to promote the deeper core.
This is giving me some insight into thinking about how to cue the position of the body when on the side. In the past, i’ve taught poses that had people on their sides, I look around the room and see everyone in funny shapes that don’t look great. So i’ve just moved people out of it quickly because I didn’t have great language to help help them. The wheels are turning as to how to help students build proprioceptive of the side of your body and stabilization in the leg/hip complex.
This is a great point – referencing Tadasana in the spine when performing (lots of repetitions) side-lying exercises. However, I think the post could be strengthened if you were to elaborate on what kinds of cues / techniques have been helpful for you in your experience with clients whose Tadasana also needs improvement (i.e. head and neck and low back)?
Thank you for your post!
This post was a great reminder about the importance of maintaining a neutral Tadasana-like structure even in different orientations, particularly lying on our sides. As you pointed out, very few people are aware of when they are distorting in a side-lying position, and this has an impact on the efficacy of any exercises done from this posture. In order to optimize results, alignment comes first!
What a topic I can relate too. I often catch myself laying on the couch in a very distorted form, I adjust to my “Tadasana” neutral but end up relaxing back to the way I was. I often forget that this habit I have is surely the same habits my students have. Joint stacking and contraction of the core is what will keep students safe and aware. thanks for sharing!
I like that this is not about how you choose to move your body (exercise regimen), but that it is about being present in your body and what you are asking it to do. If the connection to the body is turned off banging out a hundred receptions of any movement may not give you the desired result.