The Plank is an exercise that it seems every newbie to fitness wants to master in order to strengthen their core. You can venture onto just about any beginning strength training or weight loss forum and find a plethora of planking challenges being presented to the eager followers. The problem is, while there is some utility in mastering the plank, it is an overrated exercise that too many people do not even do correctly. I personally feel there is a better use of your gym time, but I will digress, and write about them since they are not going to die a peaceful death anyhow.
What is a Plank’s benefit?
In addition to doing crunches, planks can help improve your core strength and stability. Simply get into the top or start position of a pushup while keeping your palms and toes firmly planted on the ground, your back straight, and your core tight. Then lower yourself down onto your elbows and hold for 30 seconds to one minute at the most. Bear in mind that a saggy back or bottom during a plank can result in lower back pain later on, so be sure not to compromise your form. Do not let your head sag.
Long periods of planking are really not beneficial for you. If you are going to get the most benefit of doing planks, do sets of 5 to 10 reps with a 30 second hold. A simple plank should be held for a maximum of 30 seconds to one minute at the most. With all the internet challenges, it may excite you to push beyond this point, but the result is only going to lead to unnecessary stress and strain on your body. It’s common for fitness newbies to want to work muscles to failure but it must be remembered that this is failure of form, not strength. When holding a plank to failure, as soon as your back begins to sags and your abdominals start to sink to the floor, consider yourself done with the rep. Once you are past this point the abs are no longer working but intense pressure is placed on the ribs and into the shoulders. You may still be able to hold the plank but you are no longer performing an effective exercise.
Planks alone won’t give you a six pack.
But when paired with a healthy diet and total-body strength exercises, planks can help you develop definition in your middle as they train the inner core muscles, including the transversus abdominis, which lays the foundation for creating a stronger, more defined rectus abdominis — the front sheath of abs that you see in the mirror. For people with disc issues or existing back pain, planks are safer than crunches because they don’t require flexion of the spine.
Planks done wrong will cause you problems.
Common complaints when attempting to do planks is that it hurts the shoulders, back and wrists. If you are experiencing joint pain, you’re doing something incorrectly.
Arching your back
The back arch is the most common reason for back pain during a plank. Your back should be held perfectly flat when you are performing a plank. If you held a stick on your back it should touch your back down the length of the whole spine. To ensure this, tuck the butt and engage your lower abs. This is called a pelvic tilt. This will elongate the spine and help to engage the right muscles and alleviate back pain.
Collapsing the Upper Back
The next common mistake occurs in the upper back around the shoulders. Do not allow your scapula, or shoulder blades to pinch together. Focus on pushing hard through the floor and drawing your chest upward to fill the space in-between your shoulder blades.
You are raising your butt to the sky
This is a plank, you are not trying to do the yoga pose “downward dog” where your hands are forward of your shoulders and your rear end is jutting up towards the sky. Remember the stick trick. Everything should be straight. If you’re butt is in the air, try to get it down to the same level as the shoulders and ankles.
Wrist and Elbow Alignment
Arms are another important element to the plank. Keep the arms at body width, don’t go too wide. Elbows should be below the shoulders. In the push up position, try to line the fingertips up with the shoulders so the base of your palm is in line with the middle of your chest. When doing a forearm plank, tuck the elbows under your body. Try to keep the hands below eye level and keep the elbows squeezing in to your center. No chicken wings!
Remember these key points next time you practice your planks so that you can get the most out of this exercise.