Is it better to do side bends with plates by your sides or dumbbells above your head?
you could always use both at different times during your program. Obviously the longer lever arm by holding the weight overhead makes Saxon side bends a tough exercise, as well as challenging shoulder stability. But then, by comparison, holding the weight at your sides would seem less daunting. So I would say to make use of both rather than limiting your training to the exclusive use of one over the other.
i came up with a good version of this exercise, you should try it
go to a rope-pulley machine with handles, place the handles up high in the air (so it’s above your head) and with your arms above your head grab the handle and do the “side bend” motion, pulling the weight towards the ground and keeping the handle and your arms above the head … orientate yourself so that you move exactly like you would for a side bend, so it works the obliques … good stuff for that hard-to-reach spot
Is it better to do side bends with plates by your sides or dumbbells above your head?[/quote]
It’s not about which is better, it’s about difficulty. Holding the weight by your side is generally easier, compared to holding it over your head (called a Saxon side bend), which will require more upper back and shoulder work.
If you’re just looking for an “ab movement”, I’d start with the regular side bend (holding it by your hip). It’s easier to learn, and you can work up to some large weight fairly quickly.
Another variation you could try, if you have access to a pulldown machine, is a reverse side bend:
It puts a new tweak to it, and also involves a little more arm/shoulder/chest activation.