The plank exercise has become wildly popular in recent years as a way to develop core muscular strength as well as using it as a different method to tone the abdominal muscles. In fact, this isometric movement is actually a very challenging exercise that involves holding the body in a prone position while resting all of your weight only on your forearms and toes. So unlike the typical ‘stomach crunches’ that are done to tone and tighten only the abs, the plank has become the exercise of choice for those individuals who are looking to benefit from a total body workout.
Benefits of Planks
According to the ACE (American Council on Exercise) Health Coach Manual – chapter 12, the front (or forearm) plank is one of the assessments used by a health coach to test a client’s core musculature’s ability to hold the spine in a neutral alignment. If a client can successfully hold the proper alignment (feels work being done mainly in the abdominal area) during the test for at least 30 seconds, then it is determined he or she has good core strength. This is also an indication that the person may have good body posture thereby reducing the chance of injuries during activity.
Another benefit of planks is that it is a multi-layered exercise that works associated muscles groups beyond just the abdominal. If done correctly, the plank is an exceptional movement for tightening and toning the following muscles groups:
- Arm muscles – deltoid, biceps, triceps
- Abdominal muscles – obliques, rectus abdominis,
- Chest muscles – pectorals major
- Back muscles – latissimus dorsi
- Butt muscles – gluteus maximus
- Leg muscles – quadriceps, hamstrings, calf muscle
Lastly, another benefit of the plank exercise is that you can do the movement anywhere. Meaning, this core strength movement can be done in the privacy of your home, at the office or even on vacation. All you really need is a mat (preferable) or a towel and enough room to lie down.
How to Properly Do the Plank Exercise
- Lie face down on the mat with legs straight behind you.
- Raise yourself on your forearms ensuring they are directly underneath the shoulders with hands straight ahead of you.
- Toes should be directly below the ankles with the legs straight.
- Your body should maintain a straight line from shoulders to heels.
- Hips should not rise above or below shoulder level.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles and imagine pulling your belly button to the back of the spine.
- Do not hold your breath – instead slowly breathe in through the nose and out the mouth.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds – make any adjustments to your abdominals or hips if they begin to fall.
- Practice until you can hold the plank for longer periods and/or can do several sets.
- NOTE – If this is too challenging at first, extend your arms straight like you’re doing a pushup and start with this variation or you can lower your knees to the ground for a modified variation.
During your plank, if you ever notice that you are feeling the movement or fatigue in your back, then your body is not correctly aligned and you may have your hips too high or too low. Likewise, if you are feeling the fatigue in your shoulders, then you may be shrugging your shoulders or they are not aligned properly. Make adjustments and ensure your shoulders are away from your ears.
Needing a Challenge?
Once you master the art of the forearm plank exercise, you may want to add some plank variations for more of a challenge. Here are a few examples.
- Wide leg plank – Spread feet apart when doing the plank
- Raised leg plank – While doing the forearm plank, raise one foot in the air, and hold. Switch legs.
- Knee taps – While in forearm plank, slowly tap each knee to the floor and repeat while holding for 30 seconds.
Finally, if you’ve mastered the forearm or extended plank for some time now, and you’re looking for a BIG venture, then read below for the Fitness Magazine’s 31 Day Plank Challenge. Pin this to your calendar and get started.
As you can see, planks are a great total body toner and workout with many benefits. However, that doesn’t mean these movements are easy. In other words, if you want to perfect the art of the plank, it requires practice. And lots of it! Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with planks. Why? Because they are hard, mentally and physically challenging (the hate part), but they are such a great exercise for engaging many muscles groups at the same time (the love part).
If you have a plank version you like, let me us know or take a picture and share it with us. I promise, I am always in awe of anyone who can hold those ‘suckers’ for long periods of time!