Side Bend vs. Side Bridge – Win-Win or Lose Huge?


To kick off this post, I want to affirm the fact that spot reduction (exercising a muscle to reduce surrounding body fat) does not work.  Muscles don’t “own” the fat covers them; they can’t just suck it in and burn it at will.  So, using a particular exercise to target a specific area is misguided.  See my Skinny on Getting Lean post for more info on fat loss.

Having said that, one can conclude that shrinking the “love handles” can’t be done by targeting the muscles that live there.  And that leads me to the crux of this post – side bends vs. side bridges.  If you’re unfamiliar, a side bend involves standing with a weight in one hand, bending towards that side of the body and straightening up again.  A side bridge (or side plank) starts from side lying and requires a vertical hip lift.  Neither one will get rid of love handles, but they do both recruit the obliques.  The big difference is that one has loads of potential to hurt the low back.

Okay, is anyone deliberately out to hurt their low back?  No, right?!  Unfortunately, there are still people doing the side bend, which puts unnecessary stress on the low back.  That side bending motion increases shear strain in the disks that can, over time, cause tearing and injury – a pretty awful outcome when the goal is simply to tighten up the midsection!  A much better choice of exercise is the side bridge (or plank).  To illustrate the difference, look at the spinal positions below:

Side Bend

Side Bridge

Spine angle changes substantially during a side bend.  It actually forces most of the motion through the low back, whereas the side bridge creates motion at the hip.  Both exercises work the obliques, but side bending uses them to move the body while the side bridge uses them to stabilize.  Cutting edge core training calls for abdominal muscles to stabilize movement rather than create it, for which the side bridge is excellent.  Movement around the hip is also a really good thing, especially for all the people out there with weak hip muscles.  So, in the effort to work your core, why not spare the spine while using the same muscles?

In conclusion:

  • Side Bridge – enhances both spinal stabilization and enhances hip strength…Win-Win!
  • Side Bend – has tons of potential to tear down the spine…Lose Huge!

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Michael Bento is an Advanced Trainer at the Clubs at Charles River Park. He holds a Masters degree in Human Movement and is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a Corrective Exercise Specialist and Performance Enhancement Specialist.

One Response to “Side Bend vs. Side Bridge – Win-Win or Lose Huge?”

  1. Ldennis says:

    Thanks for the infromation.  I have been doing both the side bridge and side bend for quite some time but I will discontinue the side bend now.  I have had back trouble in the past and do not want to cause an injury again.  Keep the information coming.