The plank is positively one of my favorite core body exercises! It works your abdominals like crazy (hello flat stomach!) and back muscles, improves your balance and requires no equipment, just your own body weight. With a strong core, you can improve your posture and sit and stand straighter, walk taller, and flatten your abs so those skinny jeans zip with ease! A strong core is also necessary for power and stability in almost every sport or exercise, and can help reduce lower back pain.
The plank, traditionally part of yoga and Pilates routines, has become a mainstream exercise and is effective for anyone looking to improve core strength and balance. The name “plank” is self explanatory when done properly; your body position should be straight, like a wooden plank. The primary muscles involved are your abdominal muscles and your erector spinae, the back muscles that run from your low back up to your head. But the plank also works your shoulders, chest, legs and buns in varying degrees. The plank has several variations with different levels of difficulty. Regardless of the variation, the basic movement is the same.
The traditional exercise starts in the standard push-up position: face down, hands shoulder-width apart directly below the shoulders, and balancing on your toes with your abs contracted. (To modify, you can start on your forearms instead of your hands and/or drop your knees to the mat.) Most important thing is to keep your body straight from head to heels (or knees if modifying). Maintain the position for 15-30 seconds by engaging the abdominal muscles and holding the position, being mindful not to let your chest or low back sag. (This is where a mirror comes in handy to check your form.) The more your core muscles improve, the longer you will be able to hold this position. Gradually increase your time up to a minute or so. To increase the difficulty, try lifting one leg, creating a balance challenge.
Side Plank Form
Lie on either side balancing on one arm with your legs straight and the top leg stacked directly on top of the bottom. (To modify, you can start on your forearm instead of your hand and/or drop your bottom knee to the mat.) Align your head with your spine and keep your hips up and your abs contracted. Your side muscles, the obliques, are working hard in this position. Maintain the position for 15-30 seconds by engaging the abdominal muscles and holding the position. You can increase the intensity of the side plank by increasing the length of time you are in the raised position and by raising the upper leg off the lower leg for an intense balance challenge.
A Few More Tips
The length of time a plank is held varies according to the person. Go for quality of form over quantity of time. One minute is usually long enough for most people to maintain the proper position. Many people may start with 15 seconds and build up from there. For frequency, do a few sets every other day to build your strength, and make sure you don’t forget to breathe while you are doing your planks!
The plank can be one of the keys to developing your core power and getting flat abs! And as I mentioned, even though the plank targets the abdominals and back muscles, you also will be working your shoulders, chest, buns and legs. Any type of plank is a great addition to your weekly core routine.