Building a stronger and more stable core is a common goal for many people, as it can not only improve the aesthetics of your mid section, but also improve your posture and reduce symptoms of any back issues you may have.
There are many beneficial core exercises, but the plank seems to be one of the most commonly used. Done right, it is one of the best core exercises out there. They are great for improving stability, strengthening your abs, and improving your hip and shoulder stability.
BUT, when someone tells me their goal is to hold a plank for over 2 minutes, it makes me cringe a little inside. What we really should be focused on is engaging the right muscles as hard as we possibly can, rather than allowing yourself to rest on your hip flexors and engage your lower back just to hold a plank for as long as possible. If you can engage everything so hard you begin to shake within seconds then that’s training smarter, not harder.
Maintaining perfect form is your goal, and you should only hold your plank as long as you can do this. So, before we go any further, lets make sure you’re performing your plank correctly.
The plank is much more than simply propping yourself up on your toes and elbows, and then holding that position for as long as you can. The plank is meant to create tension throughout your entire core, legs, and upper body, and to keep that tension by flexing and squeezing all of your muscles as hard as you can while holding the position for as long as you can.
With that in mind, here is your checklist for the basic forearm plank. Even if you think you perform these well, try holding a plank whilst ticking all of the boxes, and see if you start to shake any quicker than usual.
Elbows resting under your shoulders
Legs squeezed together (try rolling up a towel, putting it between your legs and squeezing hard)
Squeeze your core and tuck your hip bones under
Brace your back
Ensure your head is in line with your spine and not looking up
Drive back onto your heels
Your body should be in a straight line and hips shouldn’t sag
Now that you’ve mastered the basic forearm plank, let’s see how long you can hold it for whilst ensuring all your muscles continue to squeeze as above. As fatigue sets in, your lower back may start to arch and this is where you can put yourself at risk of injury, so don’t force yourself to hold the plank once you’ve lost your form.
To progress your plank, build up to holding your plank in this way for a minute. If you’re a long way off this, shorter sessions are just as beneficial. Hold your plank for 10-15 seconds, then relax for 5-10 seconds. Re-engage for another 10-15 seconds and then relax. Repeat for 3-6 sets.
Once you can hold your plank in good form for a minute, it’s time to try some variations. There are many to try but here are two of my favourites. If you’d like some more, please get in touch, otherwise look out for my future newsletters where I'll be providing some more. Happy planking!
PLANK WITH SIDE STEP OUTS
Get yourself into the basic forearm plank position
Step wide with one leg and then the other, whilst maintaining the squeeze on your core and glutes and tucking your hip bones under
Hold this position for a second, then bring one leg then the other leg back together
As with the basic forearm plank, your elbow should be placed underneath your shoulder
Place one foot on top of the other and lift your hip off the ground
Your body should be in a straight line and your hips shouldn't sag
Make sure your hip bone and shoulder point straight up to the ceiling and you're not tiling forward or back
Squeeze your glutes and core for the duration of the hold
If you have any questions, or would like to know more, please get in touch!