Do you want to work your core, back, and chest muscles? Planks are an excellent way to do just that. The plank is a static exercise that engages the abdominal muscles and the arm and leg muscles. It primarily targets these muscle groups because it requires them to remain still for an extended period. This also helps with stability in other areas not explicitly targeted by this workout.
The plank is a fitness exercise, which includes your body’s core muscles. It helps in improving your overall body strength while also helping you in balancing as well as endurance. This fitness exercise helps straighten your body while also maintaining its core strength–as a plank of wood has. Also, just like other calisthenics, this exercise does not involve any weight or equipment. Therefore, it makes a convenient form of a strength training exercise if you have a tight budget. Also, you will not need to go to any gym to do this exercise.
How to Do Planks?
You need to follow these steps to do a simple plank exercise:
- First, place your hands underneath your shoulders. Then, place them at a distance somehow wider than shoulder width.
- Ground your toes in the ground, and then squeeze your glutes. It will help to stabilize your body. You also need to work on your legs. Make sure not to extend your knees or lock them too much.
- Also, you need to neutralize your spine and neck. You can do so as you look at one spot on the ground placed at a distance of a foot beyond your hands.
- Stay in this state for around 20 seconds. Then, with more comfort, you can hold the plank for a long time without you having to compromise on your breath.
Joseph Pilates discovered this exercise. He was the man behind the famous Pilates fitness regime, and he also invented Pilates. He considers this exercise as a conditioning and strengthening exercise.
The old and mundane sit-ups were also getting replaced by this exercise as more and more fitness trainers talked about planks. In 2009, we saw that the IAFF or the International Association of Fire Fighters enlisted the planks in their evaluation for fitness. Also, we find the International Sports Science Association labels this exercise as among the most effective exercises for abs.
How Do Planks Work?
Evidence suggests that the isometric dorsiflexion in the plank exercise helps to improve ab muscles activation. This happens compared to the isometric plantarflexion as well.
Additionally, ab muscles link with adductors through a sling, which we call anterior oblique slings. Therefore, you can do unilateral adduction for the hips that helps to improve your ab muscle activation. This is important, as other bilateral hip adduction does not activate ab muscles in the same way.
More attention to the ab muscles in the planks exercise improves ab muscle activation furthermore. Doing the plank exercise on the surface enhances the activity of the core muscles more than doing it on a stable surface. This is because the muscle demand increases as you do this. A suspension device or a dynamic cushion adds to the unstable surface for the exercise.
A study shows a better activation of the deep ab muscle with a dynamic cushion for the lower limb. We compare it to the vibrant upper limb cushion. The former helps to maintain the stability of the pelvis.
Mechanics of Planks
You balance your body weight on all plank forms, whether it is a high plank or a low plank. It helps to target a lot of muscle groups in your body. This includes the rectus abdominis and the transverse abdominis muscles. The former ones are the muscles in the front-most region of the abdomen. They help in supporting your spine muscles. Also, they help in keeping your body organs in the ab area in your place. Furthermore, you will see them popular as “six-pack muscles” as they give the definition and shape of your abs.
On the contrary, the muscles transverse abdominis are the corseting muscles as they cinch the body waist. Also, they help in stabilizing the core muscles, which support the lower back. Indeed, a weak transverse abdominis muscle causes back pain.
Also, planks will target the rhomboid muscles and the trapezius. These are the upper back muscles of your body. The serratus anterior and the pectoral muscles, which are your shoulder and chest muscles, also are a target of this exercise.
What to note?
You can hold a plank for longer if you put more engagement in your body muscles and less pressure on the core. Also, you can engage your back muscles and shoulders in a plank exercise as you grip the ground with your hands and fingers. Keep a spine in the neutral position, which will help you get rid of the neck pressure. Also, it will make your plank more comfortable than before.
As people consider the word core, they only usually think about their ab muscles. However, the powerhouse involves the low back and the hips as well. Furthermore, a solid plank will work your thighs, calf muscles, and the glutes present in your lower half of the body.
Furthermore, the hips play a role in strengthening the planks of the body. The hips of your body connect to your lower abs. Therefore, engaging your body muscles will assist you in holding this position for long in a proper form. As you squeeze your buttocks, you can quickly embrace your body core while lifting the lower back. This is something that a lot of fitness trainers prioritize in their exercise regimes.
Anatomy of Planks
The Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise published experimental fitness research in 2011. It showed that the planks variation of the forearms required a higher average activity of the muscle of rectus abdominis, lumbar erector spinae, and the external oblique muscles. In addition, they compared this plank to the other conventional trunk flexion exercises.
These are not the only muscles that you can target with the plank exercise. The erector spinae and the ab muscles, glutes, thighs, deltoids, chest muscles, and calves should also contract. This is to ensure that your body stays in a typical plank state during the exercise.
Interestingly, another research in the American Council of Exercise in 2014 on 16 participants studied the effects of this exercise. The researchers found that the typical front plank exercise-induced less rectus abdominis than the regular crunch exercise. So this is one example of a trunk flexion exercise.
The discrepancies in the data have to do with the instructions for doing the core regimes. This is because not all instructions came with a set standard. Also, the previous study did not consider any challenging variations that were in the first study. This included doing planks with an additional hip extension on stability balls.
Variations of Plank
There are some variations of plank exercises which you can do. These include:
a) The Upper Limb Plank
This plank is a significant beginner plank modification. However, you can feel the burn without getting too uncomfortable in the exercise. First, you can get on the ground and place the forearms underneath the shoulders. Furthermore, you need to extend your hands and lengthen your body. Then, you can tuck the tailbone and make sure you keep your glutes, your abs, and your triceps engaged to prevent your spine from getting in an arch position. Also, tuck the toes under and then lift your knees. Doing this will help your body get in a straight or a “plank” position.
You need to hold the plank for half a minute and build to 60 seconds or longer. The Guinness Book of World Records stated that the world record for holding a plank was 8 hours!
b) Forearm to Complete Plank
You can also switch from the previous plank to a full plank for progressing your workout. You can do so as you get into a forearm plank position. Then, straighten your arm and move your arm to position yourself in a full plank. You can try it gradually and grow into doing a perfect, complete plank with time. Pick your pace at your comfort level. Do the plank pose for half a minute for one set and perform three sets in total. Build your way as you complete the plank exercise for a minute or more, as long as comfortable. Avoid swaying the buttocks much as you switch positions.
c) Sideway Plank
Lie on one side of your body and make sure that you have your elbow under your shoulder. Keep your arms entirely flat as you do this.
Keep your knees on the floor, raising your hips and stacking your legs.
Place your hands on your buttocks or try placing them. Then, you can raise it straight, facing the ceiling.
Try squeezing your glute muscles while you hold for about a minute.
Lift your stacking feet rather than your knees. After that, you can enhance your difficulty levels and get better stability through variations. You can also do so as you raise or lower your hips.
Hold your leg up and an arm just like a starfish. You can also add one knee to pull yourself to a more significant challenge. You can also even out your body muscle as you complete about ten reps of every movement on every side. As you master this variation, you can boost your core and upper body intensity as you add the push-up before your side plank.
d) Walk Planks
Did you know that walking sideways with a planking position will help to strengthen your core? It also helps to improve your lower and upper muscle groups. These muscle groups include hamstrings, glutes, deltoids, quads, and calves. You can do so by following these steps:
Start with a complete plank position as you place your hands under your shoulders.
Then activate your glute muscles and abs for preventing injury and gaining an optimum advantage.
Begin shifting laterally as you move your right foot and hand towards the right
Also, lift your left foot and hand towards the center and go back to the plank position.
Complete all these steps and the last step once again towards the left side for one set. You can aim for three sets at the beginner level. Alternatively, you can also work for about two-minute rounds as you work up to more rounds. It is not a speeding exercise, so make sure you concentrate well and keep your pace slow.
Health Benefits of Plank Exercise
Some of the general health benefits of plank exercise are the following;
a) Straighter Posture
Slumping shoulders and slouching back are some indications of poor posture. It may happen as you align your body poorly or keep sitting for long durations. When you distribute the total weight of your body equally, that is when a good posture is possible. It helps in reducing the overall stress on your body spine, giving you a straight and aligned body as you walk, stand, and sit. This position helps engage your muscles from the neck and shoulder towards the back of your pelvis, legs, and thighs. Slowly, it will cause a more robust posture for your body, which will give you better confidence to walk correctly.
b) Coordination and Balance
Our body core muscles help us balance as we stand on a leg or ride a bike. Also, dancing demands you to engage your core muscles to get the right balance in your form. Planks help you hold core muscles tight, which brings in more endurance for your muscles. In addition, it will help to increase overall muscle stability and improve your body balance.
c) Improvement in Body Alignment
We often experience back pain, which is getting more and more common these days. It is because of poor posture and poor body alignment. Planks on the regular will improve your posture and help you get rid of your back pain. It is possible as planks help build stronger ab muscles that require you to reduce the straining of your neck and shoulders. Also, planking down after using the computer helps to relieve shoulder and neck as well. Regular exercise and planks help to prevent muscle atrophy that osteoarthritis causes.
d) Building More Core Strength
The core muscles also improve in their strength and with their experience as you do this exercise. Therefore, doing plank exercise can help in building more endurance and stability in the body. However, only performing planks in your workout may get boring for you, causing you to quit. Therefore, you need to combine your planks with additional exercises, such as weight training or cardio.
e) Better Flexibility of the Body
Doing planks can help to increase your body flexibility and help you get better handstands, headstands, and forearm stands. The Kumbhakasana and Vasisthasana are some yoga poses that help you grow your core strength and flexibility. They also improve thigh and hip flexibility when you combine them with other poses. Also, ab muscles are great for performing different flexibility poses.
f) Better Metabolism
Our body metabolism slows down when we stay inactive for a long enough time. Plank exercises help to improve your body circulation, which helps in enhancing the body’s metabolism. Also, it aids in muscle growth. This gets more helpful when you improve your food intake. When you combine a healthy diet with vigorous exercise like a plank, it will help to burn more calories. This will cause a faster weight loss than otherwise. So, doing regular planks can help you boost your body metabolism, and you burn more calories.
Planks for Rehabilitation
You can do planks for rehabilitating and preventing lower back pain as you include it in your core training programs. You can perform the plank exercise on a surface like a stability ball to enhance your trunk stability. Also, it has a positive effect on your injury prevention mode.
Planks for Physical Fitness
Also, the plank exercise is an excellent exercise for strengthening your abdomen. In the usual case, it helps to burn around five calories every minute. Plank exercises help to boost metabolism and increase muscle growth. Therefore, they help to maintain high levels of calorie burning as you rest. They also help in giving a better rounding of exercise routine that involves cardio workout regimes as well. Also, the plank exercise helps to improve the strength of the abdomen.
The plank is a highly effective abdominal-strengthening exercise. For most people, it burns many calories and engages many muscle groups. This helps to increase the overall strength of your body. As a result, the fat in the abdominal portion decreases. In addition, you feel your tummy getting tighter as you do this exercise. It may look simple, but it requires balance and resilience. In this way, you are better able to get in the plank position. You can also hold a plank for exercise for a minute at least three times.
Fitness trainers suggest that doing this exercise will help you give better results. Doing it for a minute might be an enormous challenge at the start. However, with time, you will learn how to improve it. For example, you don’t have to hold your plank position for over 60 seconds. Doing it for a minute will allow you to perform the exercise in the best form.
Famous Trainers Doing Planks
A famous physical fitness trainer, Chloe Ting, primarily focuses on working out for a flat stomach and ab muscle building. However, you can see her doing her favorite planks, for which she has also designed a hashtag for TingPlankChallenge.
John Shackleton is another strength and conditioning exercise coach who includes planks in his top exercise regime. He states it is one of the challenging exercises as you are engaging a large diversity of your body muscles. You can also hold the plank for an extensive-time period, which requires you to have a lot of mental stamina.
Namrata Purohit is a celeb fitness trainer who often shares tips for different stomach flattening exercises. She has also stated some tips on plank exercises where she mentions keeping the body core engaged. She also adds to keep the back in a neutral position and avoid holding your breath.
Correct Form of Planks
First, you need to make sure your form for the plank exercise is correct. Your entire leg area, the glutes, and the muscles should be active. Also, start with a tabletop position. Align your knees together underneath your buttocks. Keep your shoulders over the wrist. Press your hands on the ground and place one foot back. Engage your core well. Spread your chest open and draw the tailbone to a lower position. Lift your thighs and then go back through your legs. Make the head tilt forward and ease the ground.
Additionally, you need to check if the elbows are underneath the shoulders or not so you can get in an optimum form. Make your arms go perpendicular towards the floor as your shoulders align over your wrists. Ensure pressing your arms inwards and then spread the shoulder blades wide.
Crunches and push-ups are some challenging exercises that most people find hard to do. Also, these exercises don’t help engage the entire core. So, you can include an exercise like a plank to make sure all your core gets involved. Also, plank exercise and its variations are helpful if you are going under the rehabilitation of your muscles. This is especially important for people who complain of body pain, especially of the lower back.
Plank exercises are one of the most effective exercises to improve your core strength and stabilize your body posture. Also, it helps in improving body flexibility and provides a boost in metabolism. Additionally, it helps to improve rehabilitation of the lower back that allows you to fight well against back pain. These reasons make plank exercises one of the essential exercises you can include in your fitness regime.
Now you know the benefits of plank exercises, so it’s time to get down and dirty with this exercise. If you want a well-rounded workout regime that includes cardio workouts as well, then add these in too! Give it some thought and see if there are any other areas to improve your fitness routine, like improving strength or weight loss goals.
Make sure not to neglect core work while adding in more challenging ab routines; otherwise, we may end up diminishing our gains instead of building them! Have you achieved success with this exercise? Let us know how long you can hold a plank for, and what results (strength-wise) have occurred after one month into the program by commenting below!