A plank is a great exercise to incorporate into your gym plan on a regular basis. The great thing about the plank is that you don’t need any equipment to do it; you could even use a towel if you didn’t have a mat to use. This means it’s something you can do at home or if you are travelling you could do it in your hotel room and you can add it in to an HIIT workout too!
The plank itself forces you to use the inner core muscles which are transverse abdominis in the front, multifidus in the back, the pelvic floor on the bottom and the diaphragm on the top. These muscles form an inner corset which stablises the back and pelvis. These are not the big stomach muscles which you use for a sit-up or a bicycle crunch, these are the deep seated muscles which are switched on all the time to maintain your posture. Strengthening these muscles can be a great way to help with lower back pain. This is why something like pilates can be great as it targets these inner postural muscles.
I have demonstrated a plank in the picture. As you can see it is done on the forearms with the elbows bent at 90 degrees and toes. The body should be kept in a straight line. It’s quite common for the hips to sag or for people to actually have their bottom in the air so when trying the plank it could be worth checking your form in a mirror or perhaps asking someone to check you are in a straight line. In order to achieve this you need to keep the core tight throughout.
Although the plank is a core exercise it actually works the whole body including your shoulders, biceps and triceps, the muscles in your back such as you latissimus dorsi (lats) and your big leg muscles; the glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves too! These muscles all have to maintain a contraction to keep your body in place.
For those who haven’t done a plank before it can be a very challenging exercise so don’t feel like your first plank should be for 2 minutes! Start small perhaps holding position for 20 seconds or if it is too challenging then start on the knees and progress to your feet once you can hold the plank for 30 seconds. There are some sites online that have 30 day plans to build up to a longer plank which you can try too. It can take time but the main thing is to not let your form suffer just to hold it for longer. There is no point in doing a 2 minute plank if your hips are sagging for the second minute. You would be much better to take a break at 1 minute and rest for 60 seconds then do another 1 minute plank.
One you have mastered the plank technique you can then try some of the below variations to challenge you core strength and balance a bit more. It’s good to mix it up and keep your body guessing.
- Raise the left arm straight in front of you and hold the plank for 30 seconds then swap to raise the right arm for 30 seconds
- Raise the left leg straight out behind you and hold the plank for 30 seconds then swap and raise the right leg for 30 seconds
- Raise the left leg and right arm and hold the plank for 30 seconds then swap to raise right arm and left leg for 30 seconds
- Side plank – turn to the side and support the body weight on the ridge of the left foot ,with the right foot on top of the left, and the left elbow and forearm (if this is too difficult it can be done on the knee) and work your way up to hold for 30 seconds or more. Swap to do this exercise on the opposite side.
As you progress you can hold each of the above for longer and you can also use combinations such as raising alternating arms and then alternating legs.
See how you get on and happy planking!