There are plenty of exercises that will get you sweet sweet abs (I would know….), but the plank is probably the best for genuinely strengthening the core and creating some core stability. Here are some reasons to be an top planker:
- To strengthen the deep lying core musculature of the abdomen as well as the glutes, improving core stability
- Reducing your chronic pain and/or risk of injury – especially lower back pain and posture related injury/pain
- Improve your posture – training you spine to be stable in the correct positions will help you stand tall!
- Improving your stability during other exercise (e.g. sports, massive squats & deadlifts).
- And I can’t stress this enough, Sweet Sweet Ab’s (SSA’s… that’s a thing right?)
BUT – to get the most of the plank it’s important to not do it like a mug hanging around in the wrong position for 3 minutes at a time.
Here’s how it should look demonstrated in the Blackheath gym:
No rounding of the upper back, and little or no arching of the lower back. Shoulders and bum the same height, glutes squeezed in tight. Neck and head straight. If you are using a stick try and get the lower back relatively flush to the stick, thus engaging the SSA’s.
Try and avoid these positions:
Too much rounding in the upper back meaning the bum is way above the shoulders, the abs are probably engaged but the plank will feel really easy in this position. Your back will probably feel okay in this position but you certainly won’t be doing your thoracic spine or shoulders any good. Never a good idea to create strength and stability in a position where the shoulders are rolled forward unless you want to get that humpback slouching look permanently etched into your spine.
Too much arch in the lower back (see the daylight between the stick and my back, definitely avoid this!), the abs are stretched out and not engaged. You’re definitely wrecking your back up pretty good here and not developing any SSA’s at all.
I don’t even….. If you want to develop abs in this fashion just get on top in the safety of your own bedroom. Even then don’t use the same tensing facial expression. Or bring the stick. But do leave your trainers on.
But Joe the normal plank is feeling easy and I’ve not got SSA’s yet? Never fear here are some progressions.
If you can hold a solid plank for a minute then it’s time to progress it on to something more challenging..
The Long Plank:
Stretch yourself out in the plank, keeping the shoulders and bum the same height. You’re going to have to really brace the abs hard on this one to avoid going into extension.
If that still isn’t hard enough then try out the sliding plank or “Body Saw”. Make sure all the movement comes from the shoulders and the rest of the body stays tight. Expect some nice DOMS in the SSA’s after these.
If you’re still finding this easy then well played you’ve got SSA’s, so try the same exercises with a weighted vest or a 10kg plate across your back.
Joe Birch BSc MSc
Blackheath Personal Trainer