Drum roll please…Planks! It’s the perfect “go to” exercise to do when you need something simple and effective, don’t know what to workout, and something you can train everyday.
Holding a perfect plank requires muscular coordination to suspend your body and hover parallel to the ground. Holding this horizontal position requires your body to work against gravity by your muscles working in conjunction to keep the form on point. Seems simple, but when done correctly, this is tough stuff!
When you learn the proper mechanics of how to position your body, your muscles will adapt, gain stamina, and be able to perform additional plank variations with better ease. Solidifying your plank form could be a game changer to achieving a rock solid core.
The plank is a simple bodyweight exercise that’s super effective to strengthen and condition your entire body. Other benefits include:
• Total Body Exercise
• Strengthens your deep inner core muscles (transverse abdominis, multifidus, diaphragm, and pelvic floor)
• Base exercise for more challenging variations
• Develops support and control of your spine and pelvis
• Suitable for all age groups and fitness levels
PERFECTING FULL PLANKS
So we know the value of planks, but if you don’t perform it properly, then it’s wasted effort, ineffective, and could potentially develop an injury if done in correctly.
A ‘perfect plank’ is all about perfecting the alignment. Planks involve every muscle to work in coordination with the other. When exciting a full plank, the body will form a straight line from your head to your heals. The entire torso engages to support your spine. The joints of the shoulders, wrists, knees and ankles are also engaged to stabilize the plank position.
Here are a few techniques to guide you on a path to achieving your best plank form:
1. Finding your full plank positioning
• Come into a ‘quadruped’ position (on your hands and knees).
• Place your hands directly underneath your shoulders and your hips directly on top of your knees.
• Keep your neck elongated and your nose in line with your middle fingers at all times! This is very important!
• Draw your navel up and in towards your spine to engage the core. This is known as a ‘neutral position’ of the spine. (The spine is in a ‘natural’ position as if you were standing; no arching or rounding the back.)
• Tuck your toes under and hover the knees off of the floor.
• Extend the legs straight, while still keeping your nose inline with the middle fingers.
This is how to achieve the proper alignment of a full plank for your body’s mechanics! Now let’s dive into more specific techniques.
2. Push Away
• Press the hands (or forearms) down firmly, yet feel as if you are pushing away from the ground.
• Establishing a good base from your point of contact is key. Whether your hands are down with arms extended, or your forearms are the base (forming a 90-degree angle), keep your elbows directly under your shoulders.
• Again, keep the nose in line with the middle fingers, neck long, and shoulders relaxed away from ears.
3. Lengthen neck
• Your neck is an extension of your spine. So keep it in line with your spine.
• One of the most common mistakes is to look forward or even up during a plank. This strains your neck, tenses your shoulders, and kills your alignment.
• Gaze at the floor in front of you and relax the shoulder by pushing away (#2 above).
• Imagine a small ball is placed between your chin and neck for spacing to keep your spine in a neutral position and avoid neck pain or injury.
4. Extend though the knees and thighs
• Contract the thighs to keep them long.
• Simultaneously lengthen the backs of the knees towards the ceiling.
• This concept will keep the legs extended and help maintain a straight line of your torso.
5. Engage the glutes
• Activate your gluteus by gently tightening them. It shouldn’t feel like a death grip… it’s just a gentle pinch to keep the hips stable.
• This will also prevent ‘sagging’ or ‘piking’ of the hips when your muscles start to fatigue from holding the plank.
• Basically, use it to not lose it!
6. Tense up the ankles
• Feet placement is important when holding a basic plank. Keep them parallel and inline with the knee caps.
• Tense up the ankle joints to provide a stable base for the legs.
7. Suck it up
• Once you’re all lined up and your muscles are engaged, now the challenge comes to hold the position! Firm up your midsection to support and brace your torso from all angles.
• This action can also be cued or thought of by drawing the hands/ elbows towards your kneecaps without actually moving anything. It’s a way to imagine your core activating.
8. Line it Up
• Focus on achieving a perfectly straight line of your head, neck, shoulders, torso, hips, legs, and ankles.
• Every muscle is actively engaged to achieve the perfect alignment of the plank.
9. Breathe with ease
• Typically, the goal is to sustain a plank for 30+ seconds. This is not advisable to do without breathing! Therefore, the goal is to breathe in a controlled manor without letting the torso position change.
• Avoid shallow chest breathing. This creates tension in the neck.
• Avoid belly breathing as well. This form pushes air into the belly and doesn’t allow for full inhalation or exhalation to occur. Plus, it could cause your back to sway.
• Focus on diaphramic breathing; allowing the ribs to expand from the sides of the body, then deflate the ribs towards each other.
PLANK IT UP SOFTLY
It takes time and repetitive practice to develop the muscular strength and endurance needed to hold a full plank. But, with a few modifications to help build this strength, you will be holding a plank for 30+ seconds in no time!
Try these modifications to build a solid strength base for your planks:
• Modified Plank: Same body position of the torso with an elongated spine, but the knees are bent and positioned to the floor rather than the legs extended and weight on the toes.
• Half Modified: Progress to a half modified stance by assuming either a full or forearm plank position with only one knee resting on the floor for extra support. Be sure to do both sides. Torso still remains in a straight line.
Once you’ve got your plank form perfected, you can start to progress the exercise by holding it for longer time periods or by changing the limbs positions to add an extra challenge.
Check out the video to see the proper form and how to work up the muscular endurance to performing a plank.
Get your planks up to par! It’s one of the best, most complete exercises you can do to involve every muscle group.