Yep, it’s back to the gym again! Niall O’Crualaoich is back with another killer core exercise, this time it’s an one I’ve heard called “the best ab exercise there is”….
So the ‘Plank’? Why should you be interested at all? The plank is not just a core exercise for running but used in almost every sport to build the core. The core being you abdominal muscles back and hips. This helps with power transference between the upper and lower body. The stronger the core, the less power ‘leakage’ so to speak. While the plank is a static exercise and works predominantly on your muscular endurance it also helps develop your shoulders, arms and gluts. The plank should not replace the more dynamic core exercises like push-ups or sit-ups but augment them.
So how do you do the plank? Getting into position is the easy part; it’s holding it and progressing the basic plank that is the difficulty. Lay down prone (face down) on the mat and get into the full push-up position. And instead your hands being in contact with the ground, put your elbows down. Now you’re in the plank position. Your toes are touching the ground with your feet loosely together. Ankles, knees, hips and shoulders are all in line, hence the ‘plank’ name. Your back is as straight as a plank. A hip sagging down (or to a lesser degree arched up) is usually the most common mistake. If you find yourself sagging, correct this or rest and try again. Your elbows are directly under your shoulders, bent 90 degrees; you should be looking at your thumbs and resting on your forearm. Keep your head in a neutral position so as not to strain your neck. Now that you’re in that position, it is as simple as holding it there.
All your muscles (in your core) are contracting to hold you there and therefore working hard. Concentrate on contracting your gluts (backside) and you abdominals (belly button area). Most people trying this for the first time find that holding it for 20 seconds is more than enough. To progress this hold the Front plank for 30 seconds then try to add more time and more sets (times you hold it). The box below gives a sample progression for the front plank. Start at the level you feel comfortable with and push the comfort zone.
|Level 1||20sec||One set (once)|
|Level 2||30sec||One set|
|Level 3||30sec||Two sets|
|Level 4||30sec||Three sets|
|Level 5||45sec||Two sets|
|Level 6||45sec||Three sets|
|Level 7||60sec||Three sets|
Once you’re holding the plank for 60 seconds, it is time to add some variations. The ‘Side Plank’ is usually the next progression. You lie on your side with your elbow under your shoulder. Then raise your hips till your body is once again in a straight line. Ankles to ears all in alignment. Keep your head in neutral position and your hips still shouldn’t be sagging. Also with the side plank, you have to keep your shoulder and hip in alignment (stop the trunk from rotating). As with all exercises that work one side of the body. You are going to have to work the other side of the body too. The strength from the front plank should mean you’re not going to have to start back at level 1 but be sure to hold the correct form while carrying out the plank.
So what now? You have added the plank to your workout. You’re holding the front plank for 2 minutes and after 30 seconds break into your left and right sided plank for 60 seconds each. Where do you go? Well now it is time to challenge the balance. In the front plank straighten one arm out in front of you. Hold for 5-6 seconds and then extend the other arm out in front of you. Relax put both arms back on the ground and raise one leg 4-5cm straight up. Keeping the leg straight and the toes pointing to the floor. Hold for a few seconds and then change leg.
In the side plank start with just raising the arm on top and point your fingers to the ceiling. That is the easy bit. Next raise the top leg as well. Don’t bend the knee. Like a jumping jack that has fallen over on its side.
By lifting the limbs up off the ground, not only do you challenge the balance, you have to prevent the body’s natural desire to rotate as well. People you already do squats and deadlifts find the plank relatively easy. If you’re looking for exercises to help your plank and develop your core then pull ups, push ups and Russian twists should be on your dance card.
Well enough of the plank, I hope that you have gotten some idea of the plank and its variations. If you’re a member of a gym or in a running club I am sure there is someone there who can help you. Well watch your form at least. If you already knew this exercise, I hope the progressions have given you food for thought.