The Plank: Everything you could ever want to know about this grueling exercise

What if I told you that the “7 minute killer core workout”, that includes hundreds of sit ups and crunches; is all sizzle and no steak? These exercises do not replicate the job of our core. The core’s main task is to provide stability to our torso and pelvis. Science has defined core stability as: the ability of passive and active stabilizers in the lumbopelvic region to maintain appropriate trunk and hip posture, balance and control during both static and dynamic movement (Reed 2012). The ability to stabilize the core, allows for increased function of our legs and arms.  To understand why this is the case, I just have to ask one simple question, “would you be able to squat more weight on a stable gym floor or on an exercise ball.  The answer is easy, the more stable something is, the greater amount of power we are able to generate. (To answer my own question with research,  Behm et al.  reported a 72% reduction in isometric leg extensor force production when going from stable to unstable conditions)

How do we develop core stability?

To develop core stability we must be able to absorb and resist forces from both within our body and from external stimuli that we are exposed to. It is critical for us to be able to resist forces that cause us to go into flexion(bending forward), extension(bending backworks), rotation, and side bending. To optimally develop this ability of absorbing and resisting forces, we need most of our exercises to work with a more isometric and eccentric bias.

The Plank:

In this article, I will be diving into one of the “gold standard” exercises for developing core stability…THE PLANK. 

Planks are a great exercise for promoting core strength and endurance that requires activation of the glutes, abs, obliques, erector spinae, shoulder musculature etc.

 What are the top 5 benefits of doing plank exercises?

  1. Anti-Extension Exercise:
    • As I discussed above in order to develop optimal core stability, resistant to forces in all directions must be executed. Planks are one of the best exercises for resisting forces that push us into extension. 
  2. Full Body Exercise 
    • Our core is much more than just our abdominals. Instead it includes our obliques, spinal stabilizers, shoulder musculature, back musculature, and hip musculature.  The good news is that almost all of these muscles will benefit from planks!
  3. Develop Proper Motor Control
    • To piggyback off the idea of Planks being a full body exercise; planks require our body to create a “co-contraction”.  This co-contraction teaches our muscles how to fire simultaneously and create stability.
  4. The Plank Can Be Beneficial For Everyone
    • One of the biggest benefits of the plank is that there are so many ways to progress or regress planks. This will make planks a valuable and effective exercise for everyone. Ranging from elite athlete to the sweet 80 year old grandma that I work with in the clinic.
  5. Can Be Done Anywhere!
    • The plank is a body weight exercise, meaning it requires absolutely no equipment . So hit a set of 30 second planks between your work meetings before you make yourself lunch or once you wake up in the morning. (The 10 minutes after hitting the snooze alarm may be the shortest 10 minutes and the 1 minute plank is the longest minute in the world)

Cues For Proper Form:

Maintaining proper form is important for keeping yourself safe and ensuring you are targeting the correct muscles. Some cues that you want to focus on are:

  • Keep the elbows directly under your shoulders
  • Having a “straight” back
  • Head in neutral alignment
  • Focus on engaging your “core” 
    • Research has shown, when focusing on engaging your core the upper and lower rectus abdominis muscle activity increases (Calatayud 2019)
  • Squeeze Your Butt
    • Research has shown squeezing your butt and putting yourself in a slight posterior pelvic tilt will increase muscle activation of the core(Schoenfeld 2014)
  • Breathe

*Form may change depending on the variation of the plank you are performing*

Common Mistakes During Planks:

  • Arching the low back or lifting hips too high
    • To correct this squeeze your glutes
    •   *imagine tucking them under your abs*
  • Holding your breath

Plank Modifications:

Being able to regress an exercise when it is too difficult or causing pain is absolutely critical for training around an injury.  If you are suffering from an injury please go see a rehab specialist; my bias is obviously to see a physical therapist.

Listed below is a progression from low level planks to some variations that would test even the best of athletes.

*All of these can be made harder by being placed on an unstable surface*


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