Used by yogis, professional athletes of all kinds, and Instagram fitness influencers alike, the Plank is an almost universally-known exercise. If you’ve ever attempted this movement before, you know that it doesn’t take very long before your core is burning and your arms are shaking. As anyone who has done this movement before can tell you, for as simple as the movement is, it is definitely not “easy.”
This movement is not really a stretch, but more an exercise used as an activation warm up or even for strength building. Compared to other, more dynamic movements, this one doesn’t have you moving through it. The plank is an isometric - or a static - hold. As with most movements, there are ways to modify the exercise to make it easier or more difficult. There are also a number of different ways to perform the plank. This article will outline all of this information for you.
What is the Plank?
The plank is a movement that is held specifically to target the core and build stability in those muscles. It can be used as part of a well-balanced warm up routine, as an accessory exercise at the end of a workout, or used in the middle of a workout.
To perform a plank, you first will come onto your hands and knees. Find a nice, solid Tabletop position with a neutral spine. From here, extend one foot back, and then the other to bring your lower body into a straight line with your knees and hips lifted off of the ground.
The only parts of your body that should be in contact with the floor are your feet and your hands. The rest of your body should be in a straight line - almost like a wooden board or “plank” (hence the name.) It’s really important to try your best to keep your hips from sagging down towards the floor. This is a common error and is admittedly what makes the movement difficult.
There are some other areas of performance to think about while completing the plank. The first is to draw the navel in towards the spine. This will help engage your abdominal muscles while also keeping the spine in a neutral position. We don’t want the back to arch or sag.
The second is to pull your shoulders away from your ears. When holding a challenging position, it is common to shrug up the shoulders. Resist this urge by pulling the shoulder blades back and down. Think about releasing any tension that you might be holding in your trap muscles.
As best as you can, try to keep your gaze focused down at the floor. This will help ensure that you don’t crank your neck up and cause any unnecessary straining.
Lastly, imagine that you’re stretching your heels toward the wall behind you. This will help keep your heels over the balls of your feet.
Benefits of The Plank
The plank movement is a core-strengthening exercise. Sure, everyone wants to have the much sought-after Six Pack Abs, but strengthening those same muscles (regardless of whether your abs actually “show up” or not) is more important. This is true for a number of reasons. It’s also worth mentioning that the traditional “Six Pack Abs” usually have much more to do with your personal genetics and a specific nutrition plan than what core exercises you perform, but that’s a discussion for a different day.
First off, a strong core will help keep injuries at bay. Most of the movement that our body performs originates from our center - or core. This means that if we’ve strengthened and trained those deep-lying muscles within our core, we move safer and keep other parts of our body injury-free along the way.
Having a strong core can also benefit you in many of the functional tasks you may do throughout the day. It enhances your stability and balance which both can benefit your overall quality of life.
Modifications and Variations of The Plank
As with most movements, there are ways to increase and decrease the difficulty and intensity of this exercise. As shown in this video, the traditional way we suggest to perform the plank is on your hands - essentially assuming the Push Up position. But you can also do the plank on your forearms in what we call the Elbow Plank. If you have sensitive or injured wrists, the elbow plank might be a better choice for you.
If holding a full plank is too intense, you can drop down to your knees to decrease the difficulty. This is called an incline plank and is a good way to build up the strength to move up to the standard plank.
If you need to make the plank more challenging, try to hold the position for a maximum amount of time. This will surely have you shaking and sweating by the end of it. You can also add weight to your back by having someone place a weight plate (or weighted object) on your back. Trying to hold a plank while lifting one arm or one leg (or both at the same time) can also add a degree of difficulty and skill to this movement.
Starting in a pushup position, press up until your arms are straight and hold.
Press firmly through the arms, squeeze the glutes and inner thighs, rounding the upper and lower back to activate/stabilize the midline.