I love planks! I would shout it from the rooftops if I could. I know I’m crazy and weird, but I seriously just love them. I use them with patients, in Pilates classes and for my own workouts, and I think they are one of the best ways to really kick on the core muscles, while getting weight bearing strengthening and toning through the upper body. The downside is that they are hard to do correctly, and then just plain hard to do when done correctly, so most people skip them all together. We are going to rectify this situation today!
When done correctly, planks are an amazing way to fire all of your core muscles. This means your rectus abdominus, your lower abs, your obliques and your back muscles are working like crazy to hold the correct form. Your hips muscles get amazing stabilization work, and lets not forget those arms. Due to the weight bearing aspect of planks, your arm and shoulder stabilizing muscles (think rotator cuff here) get amazing work, with the added benefits of joint compression. Basically, planks are a huge bang for your workout buck.
When done incorrectly, planks not only are ineffective and not worth your time, but they can injure you as well! I can’t tell you how many people at the gym I see doing push-ups with horrible form in their backs and necks. Not only are they not really working their pecs all that much, they are just asking for a back injury. Push-ups are basically a plank with some arm movement, so it’s super important to understand correct form and neutral spine when doing them.
Your proper plank checklist:
1) You should have a straight line from your heels to your head. If you are doing a plank on your knees, then the line starts at your knees instead of your heels. Do not let your hips and butt hike up towards the ceiling or drop down towards the floor. When your hips lift up it means the abdominals muscles are weak or tired and your body is avoiding using them. When your hips drop down too much, it can mean your shoulder muscles are weak or your abs aren’t engaged. Again, your body is avoiding using the abs for the plank exercise at this point. Both of these put undo strain on either your shoulders or low back, and don’t do anything to strengthen your abs.
2) Legs are engaged and active. We don’t think of our legs for planking, but they play a really important role. The more strength and purpose you have in your legs, the more firing you will have in your abdominal muscles. Legs should be strong, knees straight, quads turned on. (In side plank, actively squeeze your legs together).
3) Belly button is pulled to the spine to engage the abdominal muscles, with a very slight tuck of your tail. I don’t want you squeezing your buns as hard as you can, but a little squeeze will help lengthen the low back. Then keep your belly button pulled in and your abs engaged the entire time.
4) Keep space between your shoulders and your ears. Don’t let those shoulders creep up.
5) Think about pressing the floor away with your hands (or elbows if you have your elbows on the ground). It’s really easy to lose stability in the shoulder blades here and “sink” in the middle spine. Feel like you are pressing away from the floor and feel the shoulder blades widen on your upper back (but don’t lift your booty up to the ceiling when you do this!)
To show you the awesome benefits of adding planks to your workout, I’ve included an amazing five minute plank burner to really get your muscles shaking! There is a short tutorial at the beginning which will help talk you through your form. Remember, you can ALWAYS modify planks by going to your knees or elbows. It is much more important and effective to do a modification with correct form than to do an advanced pose with incorrect form! As always, check with your doctor before making workout changes. Add this plank routine to any part of your regular workout and you will start to see increased endurance and strength over time! Enjoy!