The plank exercise is not new. But recent plank challenges and the popularity of functional exercises have turned the plank into a “go to” exercise. There are even plank apps that will time and record your progress.
Plank exercises are a great way to work your abdominals as well as your entire core. They engage your abdominals, quadriceps and shoulder girdles, and also work your gluts, low back and lats. By forcing your body to stabilize itself in one position, planks work both your abdominal muscles as well as opposing back muscles. And while a crunch only works the rectus abdominis muscle, planks go the extra mile by working the transverse abdominals as well. It’s a great way to change up your repetitive abdominal regimen and see some results in strength and appearance.
If you’re just getting started, then a good place to begin is the standard plank. This is similar to a push-up position, but you rest on your forearms instead of your hands. Hold your back completely straight while trying to hold your abdominals in. Sounds easy, right? The great thing about this exercise is that the longer you hold the position, the harder it becomes. Even the strongest of strong can shake with this exercise! Begin by holding the plank for 20-30 seconds at a time. Then build up the number of reps OR work up to holding it for 2-3 minutes.
Why is the plank such a great exercise?
- It is an isometric exercise. You increase the exercise simply by increasing the holding time.
- It only uses your body weight. No fancy equipment is required.
- It engages multiple muscles in your core as well as your entire body.
- There are limitless variations to this exercise.
Why Physical Therapists like the plank?
- It can be used to treat many injuries including low back, hip and shoulder injuries.
- It is a great way to strengthen the shoulder girdle in a weight bearing position.
- It can be modified to challenge even high-level athletes.
As you perform the plank exercise the first time, you’ll quickly see the strength (or lack of strength) in your core. Don’t give up. As you keep practicing, you’ll be able to hold the plank position for longer and will be strong enough to try some of the variations below.
- Still on your forearms, hold an exercise band in your hands and rotate your forearms out slightly. Hold the band in this position while you hold the plank. This will add to the strengthening of your shoulder muscles, including your rotator cuff.
- Progress to putting your weight through your hands instead of your forearms.
- Once in the plank, lift 1 arm, 1 leg, or your opposite arm/leg. Repeat or hold the position.
- Add a kicking motion while in your plank
- Perform the plank with an unstable surface under your feet or hands. Examples include a foam roll, foam pad, or exercise ball.
- Perform side planks while putting weight through your forearm or hand.
Ready to try it? Search the web for countless plank challenges or try the one listed here. And because correct form is so important with this exercise, send us a picture of you performing your plank and one of our licensed physical therapists will give you some quick feedback on your form. It’s an easy way to find out if you are doing the exercise correctly. Simply send your picture and email as a comment to this article, or submit your photo to our Facebook page.