You can’t have a workout without a plank. That’s not a widely used saying, but it might as well be. The plank is useful for all ages, body types and fitness levels, and are great whether you’re doing cardio or strength training.
Are you sure you’re doing this basic exercise correctly, however? It’s pretty likely that you aren’t, and are indulging in some bad habits which will prevent you from using this staple to its full potential.
Before you start, invest in a good mat to protect your hands and your body from the ground and make sure that you have plenty of space to stretch out - the plank is a full body exercise, after all.
If you’re just starting out working on your planking technique, try aiming for three sets of seconds, with a minute’s rest between each set. You can then aim to build this up to five sets of a minute each, by which time you’ll be a planking legend. Don’t forget those rests, though, or your endurance won’t be as good in the long term.
Use your whole body
The plank is truly as hard as you make it. If you want to stick your bum in the air, hold your neck tense and bend your elbows, so be it, but you won’t be getting as much out of it as you could. What you should be aiming for is full body tension. Every part of you, from your wrists to your ankles, should be rigid. To achieve this, keep tension in your shoulder blades, concentrate on holding the entirety of your arms perpendicular to the ground, stay tight in your core and squeeze both your quads and your knees.
If you’re struggling with the amount of bodily tension required, reduce the amount of time you plank for rather than adjusting your technique to make it easier. It’s far better to hold a plank for 20 seconds the correct way than five minutes in a more sloppy way.
Keep your back flat
The back is an overlooked part of the perfect plank. Plank form means keeping your back parallel to the ground while you hold the position. A good image to hold in your mind is balancing a full dinner plate’s worth of food on your back.
Another tip is to actively drive your elbows into the ground, and keep your arms straight. Then bring your shoulder blades in the equation and envisign squeezing them too. Upper back tension should be maintained throughout how to do a plank exercise.
Don’t forget about your glutes
If you don’t squeeze your glutes, your butt will stick up into the air and ruin that flat back you’ve been working so hard on. By squeezing here, you’ll drive your hips into neutral and enable you to have a clean line all the way from your shoulders to your legs.
Keep those abs tight
The plank is often touted as an ab exercise, which is true. Don’t just keep your core clenched, but actively flex your abs and feel them working as you hold this plank position. A good thing to image is keeping your ribcage ‘closed’ - picture this and your abs will be flexed in no time at all.
Want to make it harder? Try these plank variations
Mastered the original plank and want to make things a little harder for yourself? One of the benefits of the plank as an exercise is its versatility. It’s perfect for building on and incorporating into other moves.
This version of a plank will challenge your core even more, although you might think that the added base of your forearms on the ground rather than just your arms would make things easier. You would be wrong!
To get into position, bend your elbows and place your whole forearms on the floor, with your elbows just below your shoulders. Face your palms in and make a fist with your hands.
Plank with arm extension
This version of a plank will challenge your core even more, and the arm release here works the muscles in your upper back and shoulders. This will give you more stability in the long run.
To perform this exercise, bring your right hand off the ground and bring your right arm up in front of you. Pull in your abs and squeeze those glutes once more to hold your body stable. Hold for up to 30 seconds, then release before repeating on the other side in the same manner. Repeat this on each side for 10 reps.
Plank with leg extension
Much the same as above, but with a leg extension instead of an arm one. This works your back and leg muscles as well as your abs, so it’s great for improving over stability and strength.
From a classic plank position, lift your right leg a few inches off the floor, holding it straight out. Lift upwards until your back and glute muscles engage. Hold for 30 seconds then release, and repeat on the other side. Repeat each side a total of 10 times.
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