Whether you choose yoga, Pilates, or circuit training, chances are you’ll do planks as part of your program. It is an essential part of many exercise programs. And for good reason: A 30-second or one-minute plank can dramatically improve your fitness. Here’s everything you need to know about how to make a great plank and why it’s so good for you.
The benefits of planks
Simply put, the plank is an isometric strength-training exercise that builds core endurance. Isometric means there is no movement. Note that we said stamina, not strength. Planks, like any good core exercise, are not intended to strengthen muscles, but to improve their endurance.
While muscle strength refers to the amount of force a muscle can exert or the weight you can lift, muscular endurance refers to the ability of a muscle to sustain a sustained contraction for a longer period of time. You need both to keep the muscles in their best shape. Strength allows you to exert maximum force (lift a heavy box) and endurance allows you to keep using your muscles over and over again before they get tired (like you would when running a marathon or performing several dozen repetitions of an exercise).
When it comes to our core muscles, improving endurance can help us with many daily tasks. Our core helps us maintain our posture, support our spine, and keep us aligned when we sit, stand, and walk. (And yes, it will also help give the trunk a stronger appearance).
Planks work a whole host of muscles. Indeed, the plank mainly works the transverse abdominal muscles and the straight abdominal muscles of the abdominal wall. This is the group of muscles located on the front side of your abdomen. The rectus abdominis muscle is the most superficial and feels like a six-pack, while the transverse abdominis muscle is the deepest. Planks also work the glutes, both at the maximum and medial level.
The other muscle groups worked depend on the type of plank you are doing. When you do the forearm plank (see below), you generate more tension in your core and lats, the latissimus dorsi muscles, which are the large V-shaped muscles connecting your arms to your spine. spine and your back. If your goal is only to work your core, the forearm plank is the way to go. When you do a plank with your arms fully extended (the top of a push-up position), you’re also working your triceps, shoulders, and chest.
How to Make a Correct Plank: Correct Form and Variations
To do a forearm plank:
Start in an all-fours position with your hands and knees on the floor.
Place your elbows on the floor, directly below your shoulders, so your arms are at a 90 degree angle and looking straight down at the floor.
Extend one leg at a time behind you while maintaining a neutral spine (maintaining the same natural curve in the top, middle, and bottom of the spine as if you were standing straight), and contract your glute muscles to strengthen the straight line from the top of the head to the heels. Avoid arching your lower back, raising your hips, or bending your knees.
Contract your abdominal muscles, you should feel like you are tightening the entire area between your ribs and your pelvis. At the same time, contract your lower back muscles by pushing your elbows against the floor, as if you were trying to bring your elbows back to your toes.
To do a straight arm plank:
Start in an all-fours position on hands and knees. Keeping your palms flat on the floor and your gaze facing down, step your feet back to form a perfectly straight line from the top of your head to your heels. (Your gaze should be down so your neck is also straight.) Hands should be directly below your shoulders.
Maintain the neutral position of your spine while contracting your abdominal muscles, lats and glutes, as described above.
To do a modified knee plank:
Start in an all-fours position on hands and knees. Bring your hands forward and keep your knees in contact with the floor, until your body forms a straight line from the top of your head to your knees. Keep your spine in neutral alignment. Work your core and side muscles to hold the position. Your gaze should be directed down and slightly outward so that your neck is aligned with your spine.
How long and how often to do the planks?
Here’s a good goal: aim to hold a plank for one to two minutes. It’s not arbitrary, because that’s about how long most sets of exercises are, and you want your core to be at least strong enough to maintain a neutral spine for that amount of time, because it’s This is when your spine is put under the greatest strain.
It’s safe to do planks daily unless you have injuries, heart problems, or shoulder strain. Because planks work muscular endurance, not strength, there’s no need to let muscles rest and repair before working them again. The plank is safe for most people, but if you’re new to exercise, it’s always wise to make sure you’re cleared by a medical professional and ask a fitness professional about it. examine your form. In particular, if you have high blood pressure, a harsh abdominal restraint maneuver could temporarily raise your blood pressure even further. Some spinal issues can also be aggravated if you hold the board in an overly flexed or extended position.
Tight hip flexors can also cause problems. Our trunk can weaken and we can lose the neutral position of the spine due to a contraction of the hip flexors. If your hip flexors are tight, when you try to do a plank, you won’t be taking advantage of your core muscles and you’ll continue to strain the hip flexors, which need to be stretched and not strained.
Finally, any shoulder issues should be addressed before working the planks. It is imperative not to strain the shoulder joint by keeping the arms in the correct position, which allows the stabilizing muscles to do their job.
You may have experienced one of these issues before, or have another health condition or illness that could prevent you from exercising safely. Even if you don’t, it’s always a good idea to consult your doctor before starting a new exercise program.