Should we or shouldn’t we plank?
Planks are a phenomenal exercise for core strengthening, but only if done correctly. Holding a plank will engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously, and in doing so will work more than just your core, by also working the glutes and hamstrings. A plank supports correct posture and improves balance.
How to perform a Basic Plank
- Elbows positioned directly under your shoulders and place the wrists in line with your elbow.
- Push your body up into your back and hold your chin close to your neck.
- Brace your abdominals, squeeze your gluteal (tailbone) and thigh muscles simultaneously whilst continuing to breathe normally.
- Hold for at least 20 – 30 seconds before resting and repeating.
As your bellybutton is attached to your transverse abdominis, the inner sheath that holds your gut inside and gives your spine and vertebrae the support, kind of like a weight lifters belt, you need to pull it in.
Have you heard of the Kegel squeeze? A Kegel squeeze is performed by drawing the lower pelvic muscles up and holding them up high and tight. If you are male then you may be less familiar with this term, so imagine a similar feeling to trying to stop urinating in the middle of the flow. The squeeze allows you to both feel and focus on the abdominal muscles.
There are many variations including adapting the version shown and described above, by dropping to your knees to make it easier, or taking it up to a high plank meaning that you have straight arms and balance on your toes and the palms of your hands. You can also perform side and reverse planks. The front facing plank engages the following upper and lower areas of the body: abdominals, lower back, chest, shoulders, upper trapezius, neck, biceps, triceps, glutes, thighs and calves. Side planks are very effective for training the oblique’s, and this in turn will help to stabilize your spine, whilst the reverse plank focuses on the glutes, hamstrings, abs and lower back.
As stated above the plank is a very effective exercise if performed correctly. Listed below are four of the most common mistakes.
- Allowing the hips, head, or shoulders to drop
- Placing the hands too close together as this creates internal rotation and instability of the shoulder joints
- Holding of the breath (Many people find themselves holding their breath whilst trying to hold their stomach muscles in – don’t just breath normally, honestly you can do both.)
- Over kill – Trying to hold the position for too long can result in the form being sacrificed (Better to execute correctly for a shorter period on time than incorrectly for longer, this is also the case for all other exercises)
So why should you perform the plank? What are the benefits?
- A toned stomach – performing the plank will help to build your inner core, this is the foundations for building a six pack. As the abdominal muscles become stronger, your mid-section tightens.
- Reduction in back pain – a strengthened core has a really pleasant side effect of reducing back pain. If you are lucky enough not to suffer back pain then be sure that a strengthened core will also help protect you from hopefully ever suffering from it as the plank also strengthens the back muscles, especially the upper back ones.
- Flexibility – performing the plank will increase flexibility in your posterior muscle groups. The often neglected, muscles around the shoulders, collarbone and shoulder blades will expand and stretch. This is also the case for your hamstrings and the arches of your feet and toes.
- Boost your mood – As with virtually every exercise performing the plank has the potential to boost your mood. Planks help stretch and release muscles groups that often become stiff and tense from prolonged sitting. Releasing this tension is uplifting for you spirit. (Must finish up soon and perform a plank or two as have sitting writing this piece for a while now!)
- Improve balance and posture – Planks work all the muscles you need to maintain proper posture, the back, chest, shoulders, neck and abs. The benefits of performing the plank regularly will result in you being able to sit or stand up straighter with less effort.
If you do suffer from back pain or have never performed this exercise before and are unsure then please feel free to ask any of the amazing The View studio instructors for assistance. If you feel it in your lower back then you need to release as your abdominals have released and you will be pulling your back.
To plank or not to plank? The answer is simple, plank but make sure you perform it correctly. If you would like to read more about 5 of the best no equipment exercises for a flat stomach by Positive Health Wellness please click here.