What is a plank?
According to the Oxford dictionary, a plank is a physical exercise designed to strengthen the abdominal muscles, in which one performs a press-up and holds the raised position for a set period of time.
One type of exercise that will improve your abdominal core strength and stability are plank exercises. When performed properly, they will not only improve the muscles supporting the spine and lower body, but also develop the arms, shoulders and glutes.
Many people that don’t exercise might wonder why they need a strong abdominal core. A strong core not only gives you a better erect posture, but it also makes doing simple everyday tasks a lot easier, like carrying groceries in from the car, or a full laundry basket, or toting around a 15-pound toddler, or vacuuming, or …. you get the idea.
The Basic Plank
The starting position for this exercise is the same as it is for a push-up – your body in a straight line (like a straight plank of wood) with your hands and feet shoulder-width apart.
Next, squeeze your glutes (buttocks) to stabilize the front half of your body facing the floor.
Be sure your head is in line with your back by looking at the floor about a foot in front of your hands. This takes the pressure off of your neck.
Hold this position for 20 seconds when first starting out. As you get more comfortable holding this position, gradually increase the amount of time without compromising your form or breathing.
There are several variations to the basic plank. Three popular ones are the:
The starting position for this exercise is basically the same as it is for the basic plank, except your forearms are supporting your weight instead of your hands. Keep to the form by ensuring your hands are pointing forward and are shoulder-width apart. Hold for 20 seconds or as long as you can.
This variation also initially uses the basic starting position, but with one twist – you are supporting your lower body on your knees instead of your feet. The knee plank is a great exercise to do if you have some lower back problems or when the basic plank hurts your back. Hold time is the same as it is for the other plank exercises.
The side plank is a great exercise designed to work the obliques and abdominal side muscles. The starting position is you on your side supported by the hand of one arm and your feet together. Your body should be in line at an incline from your feet to your head. Variations of the side plank that increase the level of difficulty include raising the non-supporting arm and leg. If you have a hard time holding the side plank position, try crossing your non-supporting leg in front of you for additional support. Hold for 20 seconds or as long as you can and then switch sides.
The beauty of planks is that they require no equipment and can be done just about anywhere, making them a great exercise to do while away from home or the gym.