Ranked as one of the top exercises that target the core, particularly the oblique abdominal muscles, the plank exercise rises above the rest in simplicity, efficiency and practicality. Planks are mentioned in almost every top 10 article discussing core muscle workouts. It does not require equipment or any other special contraptions to perform. If you have a body, you can do the plank exercise.
The basic concept of the plank exercise is to assume a well-balanced (or isometric) stationary position while contracting certain muscles or muscle groups and holding it for a particular length of time. While the concept may seem simple, it has been proven to be very effective in exercising and strengthening your core muscles. The Transverse Abdominis, the muscles the lie deep beneath the obliques that wrap around your spine to protect it and give you stability; the Rectus Abdominis – extending along the front of your abdomen and is more commonly known as the “six-pack” muscles; the Erector Spinae or the muscles that run along your lower back up to your neck; the External Obliques or the “love handle” muscles around your waist; and the Internal Obliques which is located under the external obliques. These muscle groups are all involved in performing plank exercises properly.
But the benefits don’t end with these core muscles, as variations of the plank exercise are n fact total body workouts as they strengthen not only your midsection as described above but also your upper-body muscles (including the pectoral and serratus muscles) and lower-body muscles (such as the quadriceps, tensor fasciae latae and sartorius).
And as the plank exercise helps stabilize your hips and spine, it also improves your posture and helps prevent and even correct postural defects.
It is also a very efficient exercise for reducing stress. When muscles tighten and tension develops, exercise can stretch and relax them; and in the process, improving your mood and mental well-being. Finally, if you feel like you eventually will be want to get into a more physically rigorous workout regimen, this exercise will strengthen your core and provide a stable platform to workout from. Which is always a good idea from a back safety and workout efficiency standpoint.
Convinced that you’d like to give it a try? Here are the top five basic yet very effective plank exercises people use every day to help get you started:
1. BASIC PLANK – Lie face down on the floor (use a mat or do this on a carpet or rug) as in a push-up position. Then bend your elbows and place your forearms closely on the sides of your chest down on the mat pointing forward. Using your forearms and toes, slowly raise your self while keeping your whole body perfectly straight with no part of your body sagging or bending leaving only your toes and forearms touching the floor. Maintain this position initially for about 10 seconds, then increase the length of time in 10-second increments until you’re eventually able to do this for as long as two minutes. Remember to keep your head relaxed and facing the floor and to focus the tension around your midsection while doing this.
2. BASIC PLANK Variation – if you find it too hard to do the above basic plank exercise, start with this simple modified version: Instead of lifting yourself up with your forearms and toes, lift yourself using your forearms and knees instead. But as in the original version, remember to keep a straight line from your shoulders down to your feet to make this exercise work.
NOTE: The basic plank and the knee variation are illustrated in this previous post.
3. LEG LIFTS – Using the same position, this time slowly lift one leg up about 7-8 inches off the floor, keep it up for two seconds then slowly put it down and do the same with the other leg. Do three sets with about 10 reps per set.
4. ARM LIFTS – Again, from the original basic plank exercise position, slowly shift your weight on one arm and carefully lift the other arm, extending it in front of you for 2-3 seconds before slowly going back to the original position. Then repeat the same sequence with the other arm. If you’re feeling really adventurous, try the arm & leg lift.
5. SIDE PLANK – Lay down on your side this time, with your elbow resting right beneath your shoulder and your forearm extended in front of you. Slowly and carefully lift your body on your elbow, still remembering to keep your whole body straight. Keep this position for about 10 seconds before slowly lowering yourself back to the floor starting at your hip. Repeat this sequence three times before switching to the other side of your body. The side plank was also illustrated in our previous post.
Mind your breathing when doing the above plank exercises. They work best with deep diaphragmatic breathing – inhaling deeply through your nose filling your stomach with air and slowly exhaling through your mouth.
These five basic plank exercises are a great way to introduce your body to this highly effective yet very simple exercise routine and are the foundation of any personal trainer’s core workout pyramid.