I’m a big fan of keeping it simple and getting good at the basics. The humble plank fits this philosophy to a tee. It’s a very “simple” exercise that can easily be dialled up or down in difficulty and may be one of the best core and whole body exercises you can do.
You don’t need any fancy equipment just a bit of space, not a lot of time and good technique
Why is the plank such a good core exercise ?
When compared to abdominal crunches the plank has been shown to increase abdominal and oblique muscle , ( core muscle at the side )work by more than 20%. This increase in effectiveness was further increased with the addition of upper and lower limb movements e.g mountain climber planks.
Not only can you do the standard prone plank and all its variations , you can also add the side plank and its progressions as well.
Side planks have been shown to be even more effective when looking at the obliques and anterior abdominals compared to side crunches.
Not only are side planks great for core strength but are really important in rehabilitation of lower limb sports injuries, read more here
The plank gets more muscles involved so you get more bang for the buck.
As an exercise when compared to abdominal crunches they also use more muscle mass as it has been shown that the glutes, quads , scapular and upper limb muscles are also involved. More muscles involved more bang for buck.
How to plank to get best from your core :
What is the best way to plank ?
Technique matters in this case, get it right and you wont need to worry about how long to hold your plank !Here are our simple technique pointers:
- keep elbows directly under your shoulders
- Shoulders and hips in line , its a plank not a pyramid !
- Gently brace your abdominals and squeeze your arm pits as if stopping someone trying to tickle you
- Keep feet about shoulder width apart.
How long should i hold the plank ?
Due to the function of the muscles that make up your core its better to think of increasing the number of repetitions you do of this exercise as opposed to a attempting long “marathon” type holds. We want them to get better at the job they are required to do not a job they are not designed to do.
Look at doing 30 – 60 second holds and increase the number of sets you do. A good starting point may be 20 sec holds x 5 sets and build to 60 second holds for as many sets as you can tolerate.
As you get more proficient you can challenge yourself more by:
- adding upper or lower body movements
- Using bands for upper body resistance exercises
- using unstable surfaces such as gym balls or suspension straps.
What variations are there of the plank ?
Glad you asked, here are some we prepared earlier for you:
Plank exercise and progressions.
Side plank and progressions.
How to integrate the plank into your exercise program
In our experience if you leave your core work to last, it will be the first exercise that you wont do.
- Do it as part of a warm up, this is especially useful if you have been sitting all day.
- Pair it up with another exercise you do and go back and forth for 5 sets. We use this for ALOT of our rehab clients and it works a treat. e.g. Single leg squats and side planks.
- As above but mix it up with some cardio e.g. 90 seconds rowing / skipping / running etc with 30 – 45 seconds of a plank variation. You can do this over a set time.
If you need any help or want to get some more core strength you can book into see one of the team here
Integration Core Exercises Elicit Greater Muscle Activation Than Isolation Exercises, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: March 2013 – Volume 27 – Issue 3 – p 590-596