Plank Your Way to a Great Core
Planks, planks, and more planks. That is all anyone ever talks about when it comes to working the core these days. I need a six-pack….do planks! I want stronger obliques….do planks! I want to strengthen my lower back….do planks! Forget the old favorites of sit-ups and crunches; it is all about planks these days! Just why exactly has the simple task of holding your body off of the ground (over-simplified explanation) taken over as the go-to core move?
Get Your Plank On
Planks are effective at strengthening our core because they make the core do exactly what it is supposed to do; stabilize the spine and keep it from moving!
By performing an isometric exercise (holding in a static position against a resistance) on your midsection, you really work the stabilizing muscles of the core and therefore the spine (this can improve your posture).
The old standards of crunches and sit-ups were great at working only the rectus abdominus (the 6-pack abs) but can actually induce lower back pain in some individuals.
But the plank’s ability to work the entire core (rectus abdominus, obliques, lower back…etc.) and actually help prevent lower back pain has led to the plank’s rapid increase in popularity everywhere.
Go Plank Yourself
As stated earlier the plank is essentially holding yourself up in a pushup position (or resting on your elbows) while keeping your body flat (not with your butt stuck way up in the air or sagging too low to the ground) for an extended period of time!
The longer you hold it, obviously the harder it gets! There are even plank marathons in which the participants hold the plank for 10+ minutes; I did a 5-minute plank and thought it was the end of me….(almost no more Josh).
For beginners, you can also perform a modified plank until you build the core strength up to perform a normal plank. This modified position basically involves resting your knees on the ground while still keeping your midsection straight and off the ground.
Work your way up to a normal plank from there! Another modification is the side plank in which the same principles apply except that you are resting against your elbow and the side of your foot; it taxes all the muscles differently and is a good alternative!
Now I’m not going to lie, I’m a huge believer in the traditional plank BUT I think some slight variations can actually be more effective!
The normal plank is great, but after 2-3 minutes of holding that position, there are some experts that think its usefulness may have run its course (can’t increase the overall strength anymore just the stamina).
Many experts, myself included, agree that you can perform some compound movements while holding the plank position to not only increase its difficulty/resistance and work for different muscles groups concurrently but also work the stabilizing core muscles more effectively (you will be moving your body so you will have to stabilize).
When performing some of these more difficult planks the sky is the limit. Whatever you can imagine you can do!
Some common alternative planks are: tic-tocs, mountain climbers, crazy plank (opposite arm and leg raised simultaneously), glute raises, any one-arm plank with arm movement (raise one arm at a time)… etc.
In a plank position with your feet spread about 3-4 feet wide, lift one leg and swing it over and tap your planted foot before returning to the starting position; repeat with the opposite foot.
Get a rhythm going and your legs will be like the pendulum of a clock…tic-toc…tic-toc.
In the plank position bring one knee up to your chest. While returning it to the starting position bring your other knee up to the chest.
You want to establish a fast-paced rhythm that will work your core and cardiovascular system (Note: my hair is pretty amazing in this video)!
Crazy Planks and a Glute Raise Planks
They are the same in that you are switching between lifting one leg off the ground at a time and holding that contraction for a minute before returning to the starting position. A crazy plank (oh yeah, I definitely made that name up for it) is the same except that as you are raising one leg off the ground you are simultaneously raising the opposite arm off the ground as well!
Never planked before? Start off by trying modified planks (knees on the ground) and work your way up from there until you can start doing all different kinds of crazy planks!
By building your core up through the plank you are increasing the internal foundation for everything else you do!
When we have a body region called the “core” you know it has to be important considering the definition of the core is: “the most important or most basic part of something.”
Strengthen this most important part of your body and you will have better posture, less back pain, and just improved overall quality of life! Want these things? Then go plank yourself!
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