Planking is a great isometric exercise for strength & stability and can tighten up your core, but only if you are doing them correctly!
First, let’s start with form. How should we approach the plank? What is the best set up for optimal results?
You may be surprised that the classic forearm plank where you hold yourself up with your forearms is not the best way to achieve all of the great benefits of planking.
Instead we want to practice the plank in the pushup position in which you are holding yourself up with your hands not your forearms. You want your hands right under your shoulders and actively gripping the ground, then keep those legs long and straight in line with your hips, and you should be on the balls of your feet.
Key muscles to contract maximally during a plank would be your glutes (squeeze your butt) as well as your quads (flex those legs) and also your mid back (squeeze those shoulder blades together down and back). Lastly, what you need to do is pull your belly button in towards your spine and then brace your abs like your about to get punched in the gut!
If you contract all of these muscle groups throughout the duration of your plank you will find that you fatigue at a faster rate and will not be able to hold the plank for too long at first. But this is okay!
We do not want to just hold a plank for as long as possible without consciously contracting the right muscle groups. When we go for time instead of quality contraction we begin to just hang on our joints and ligaments which is not what we want to be doing!
We want maximal muscle contraction with the least amount of strain on the joints and ligaments which comes down to proper muscle activation and spinal alignment.
What most people neglect is keeping proper spinal alignment throughout the duration of the plank. You need to remember this tip when planking, PULL YOUR CHIN IN. Making sure your chin is pulled back so your cervical spine is in proper alignment with your thoracic spine will allow your lumbar spine to follow suit and create full spinal alignment.
The body will follow the cervical spine, it is basically the body’s compass! If your neck is in proper alignment, most of the time, the rest of the body will follow. You can try it for yourself, get down in a plank and let your head hang down. You will find your shoulders wanting to round forward, your butt will sag and you will not be able to properly engage the muscle groups we need to in order to get the most out of your planks!
We want to be able to place a broom stick on your back while you plank and have it touch 3 key areas. Your head, thoracic spine (middle back) and your tailbone. If the broom stick is not touching your head you need to pull that chin in, if it does not touch your tailbone we need to pull those shoulder blades down and back and squeeze those glutes. Your goal should be to have that broom stick touching each point of contact (head, mid back and tailbone) for the entire duration of your plank, this means you were in proper alignment the entire time and most likely firing the right muscle groups throughout the plank.
Start slow and work your way up.
Do 3 sets for time. Start at 20 seconds and then every week bump it up 20 more seconds.
Week 1: Monday / Wednesday / Friday 3 sets 20 seconds
Week 2: Monday / Wednesday / Friday 3 sets 40 seconds
Week 3: Monday / Wednesday / Friday 3 sets 60 seconds
And so on and so forth. Rest 30-60 seconds between sets.
Begin planking at least 3 days per week and watch the rest of your physical fitness increase from the stability and core strength you will gain.
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