What's The Deal With Planks

By Julienne McCulloch

It’s almost impossible these days, to read any fitness article that does not mention plank exercises. The plank has become one of the most prescribed and used ways to increase core strength. Why is there so much hype around the plank and why is it effective?

Planks
The plank, unlike a traditional sit-up or crunch, works multiple muscles simultaneously. This includes muscles of the legs, hips, glutes, shoulders, chest, and of course, the abdominal area. The plank may look easy, but if done correctly it is a great workout for the whole body, and more specifically, for the entire core.   

So what are some drawbacks to the plank? There are really are no drawbacks but if not done correctly, the plank can be uncomfortable and for some, even painful. If you begin to feel pain in the low back while holding a plank, that usually means you have incorrect form, poor low back stability, or your abs are not strong enough to sustain the plank for the duration of the exercise. The back begins to arch, or take over the weak abdominal muscles. You should stop holding the plank once this happens as to not injure yourself.   

There are 2 ways to perform a plank, either a high plank, in a high push-up position, or a low plank, on your elbows. There are also modifications and numerous variations. If you are new to the plank, you can always start with a modified plank which entails staying on your knees rather than your toes. Regardless of your fitness level, correct form always wins or time and you’ll get more out of the workout than high intensity or increased level. If you are veteran of the plank, you should be able to begin on your toes.

Correct form for the plank: crown of the head to the tailbone should all be in one line. Avoid allowing the hips to drop towards the floor, creating a swaying position, or keeping the hips too high, in a pike position. Keep the head and neck in a neutral position; avoid looking up or chin tucked in towards the body. Eyes should be looking down at the ground, about wrist level. Keep the elbows directly under the shoulders. Feet should be about shoulder distance apart. Slightly squeeze your glutes as you hold the position. Keep the abs tucked in towards the spine to keep the back from swaying. Toes should be directly under the ankles. Remember to maintain good breathing while holding the plank. Never hold your breath.   

Time goal of the plank: ultimately, holding the plank for 60 seconds is a good goal to aim for. From there, time and variations can be added as well as increasing level of difficulty. A good way to test your current plank and core strength, hold the plank for as long as you can, until you feel like you no longer can do so, until you start to lose form. Loss of form will usually display itself as pain. The plank should not be painful. This time is your base time and from there, you will begin to add until you can reach 60 seconds. Adding about 5-10 seconds a week is a good increase. Be aware of plank challenge exercises that you see online, they may increase too quickly for you and injury might occur. 

 
Good luck!

Posted by: Julienne McCulloch, LiVe Well Center Park City