The Skinny on Planks
I love planks! It wasn’t always the case, but I have come to love planks for all the benefits they bring my core and body.
Here are a few benefits of planking:
- Builds a strong core to help prevent injuries
- Is a simple move that results in the greatest fitness gains
- Relieves lower back pain
- Overall improvement of posture, balance and mobility
- A great-looking toned belly
A quick Google search will show you that planks are heavy boards used in construction, and this actually makes sense because your core IS your powerhouse: the center of your body which, when strengthened, builds the foundation for all movement.
Most people immediately associate their core with six-pack abdominal muscles, but your core is in fact made up of much more. It starts at the bottom of your ribs down to the top of the hip and continues all the way to the bottom of your pelvis. When you begin to plank and build a strong core, it means that you are building both core stability (the deep internal muscles closer to the spine) and building core strength (as abdominal crunches would). Got it?
Warning! Planks are deceptive. They may look easy but when performed with proper form over a few minutes, holding a plank will solicit strength and endurance from multiple muscle groups at the same time and most of all, “ahem,” your deep and your superficial core.
If this wasn’t enough to get you down on the ground and start planking, did you know that almost every exercise has the potential to give you a mood boost? Yup, the link between exercise and mood is pretty strong and usually within five minutes of moderate exercise you can begin to feel the mood-enhancement effect. Planks are no exception. So, let’s do this!
How to Perform a Basic Plank Exercise
Begin by placing your forearms, knees and toes or tops of your shoes on the ground. Make sure your elbows are directly under your shoulders, like a sphinx, palms face down.
Brace your abdominals by gathering your lower ribs and contracting your mid and lower abs. Broaden your shoulder blades apart and pull them toward your pelvis as you exhale.
Push down firmly into your forearms and toes and lift your knees off the ground.
Make sure to hold your body in a straight line, keeping your pelvis and glutes aligned with your shoulders. Not higher or lower. Feel the tension throughout and keep the core engaged.
Maintaining your plank, contract your quads for a toned quality to the whole body. Pull your chin toward your chest to keep a neutral neck so there is no strain.
Make sure to breathe smoothly and avoid overly tensing any area especially in the shoulders or glutes. Keep scanning the body and remember to pull in your navel toward your spine so the core stays engaged. This effect is like that of a tight corset to keep the whole body connected and maintain a sturdier and safer plank.
Although a record eight hours, one minute accounts for the longest-held plank, you can start by holding a plank about 20 to 30 seconds. Rest for about 20 to 30 seconds between each rep and repeat three to five more times. Trying to hold the position too long may not be the best strategy at first. It is better to maintain proper form for a shorter period of time than to hold improper form for long.
Start doing the plank using your elbows and toes and progress up to a high plank, using your hands and toes when you feel you have built up your strength. Planking is considered one of the best exercises for core conditioning. As you become stronger, there are many variations you can try out to add intensity and to work different areas of your body.
- Increase your hold time
- Plank performed on a stability ball
- Try a side plank or a side plank with a leg raise
- Alternate forearms to palms
- Lift one foot of the floor
As you can see, sky is the limit. So invest on the best house ever (and comfortable clothing!) and building the powerhouse of your dreams. Start planking!