The day 1 challenge is a max hold in full plank in order to give participants a benchmark/starting point so that they can track their strength and endurance gains when we retest again on day 31. I thought this was a great opportunity to write a post about why to plank and how to plank as well as to discuss common faults so we all understand the benefits of including planks into your workout mix + how to do them properly and effectively.
You can find more detail on all of this in my book, Ultimate Plank Fitness.
Why to plank.
Planks are a total body exercise.
The obvious benefit of doing planks is to strengthen your core but they also strengthen muscles like the trapezius, rhomboids, rotator cuff, delts, pecs, triceps, biceps, quads, gastrocnemius (calf) and more! Do a long hold in a plank and I guarantee you’re going to feel it everywhere!
Planks prevent muscle imbalances.
Crunches and sit ups primarily strengthen the abdominal muscles on the front side of the body. Most of us neglect to work the back side of the body as much as we should. When muscles are comparably developed on both sides, you’ll have better posture and less back pain.
Planks offer the benefit of strengthening the opposing muscles in the glutes and back without having to add additional exercises. Two-for-one!
Planks improve functional movement.
All functional movement begins at the core so the stronger your core, the more easily you are able to do things like bending, lifting, squatting, jumping, throwing, running, walking, etc.
Planks are versatile and can be done anywhere.
There is a plank for every body and every fitness level! Planks are a super accessible exercise that can be done anywhere with no equipment. I also love that they offer a measurable way to see yourself getting stronger and fitter! For example, you may start only being able to hold plank on your knees but then move up to the toes or start at a 30 second hold and improve to a 2 minute hold.
How to plank.
Okay, this is where I really want to get into the nitty gritty about finding the very best form for full plank. I am going to review how to find perfect form and show some of the most common faults that I see.
Please note that what I’m sharing today is based on what I’ve read and learned as well as working with many clients and students over the years. You may have heard differently or been taught differently. Just remember, there’s usually not one and only way to do anything so decide what works for you!
Straight body position from head to heels.
You should be able to draw a straight line from the crown of your head through your heels.
Shoulders stacked directly over the wrists.
Just like you have a straight line from head to heels, you also want a straight line from shoulder to wrist. This alignment helps support the joints.
Engaged core AND chest and legs.
Many people focus so much on the core part of a plank that they forget to recruit the muscles of the upper and lower body to help maintain plank. I push out of my palms and think about squeezing my chest in plank and also really squeeze my quads and this makes the static hold so much more accessible.
Neck out of alignment.
If I had a dollar for every time I said “gaze under nose tip/directly between your hands” in a yoga or group ex class I would be able to take a really nice vacation! Almost everyone wants to either drop their head and look back at their toes or lift their head up. It is NOT good movement to take your neck out of alignment with your spine. Check yourself!
Dip in the low back.
A sagging low back in plank is something I see all the time. A natural curve in the spine is okay but it’s important not to put pressure on the spine by compressing your vertebra which is what happens when the hips dip down. The way I cue this to my clients and students is to find a slight tuck of the tailbone and to think about pulling your navel in towards your spine (which creates an isometric contraction of the abs). The difference I feel in my low back when I do this is very noticeable.
Butt in the air.
The opposite fault of a sagging low back is lifting the butt up so the body is in a v-shape. I also see this all the time but the crazy thing is that most of the time people don’t even realize they’re doing it. Check this by having someone watch you, videoing yourself or using a broomstick to balance on the backside of the body. I see the worst sagging in the back and butts up in the air when people fatigue so always remember it’s smarter to drop out of the plank instead of fighting through with bad form.
“Microbending” the elbows.
“Microbending” has become such a thing in the fitness and yoga world. I feel like everyone is cueing to microbend everything all the time. I am a proponent of straightening your elbows and your knees in a plank.
Where this cue is applicable is with people who hyperextend their elbow and knees without engaging their triceps and quadriceps. I have hyperextended elbows (see a demo in my video) and I still straighten my arms in plank but I think about how I’m engaging the muscles around my joints so as not to put unnecessary force on the joint. For me thinking about a tiny “microbend” helps although I don’t really bend. This is all about developing better proprioception.
It would be really freaking hard to hold a plank for a long time with bent elbows. Also, it’s just not good functional movement. Think about the cue of microbending your knees. Would you ever walk abound all day with microbent knees? No, you’d look super silly and it would feel weird.
Refer to the neutral, straight position of my elbows in the first two pictures of this post for an example of finding a balance between microbent and hyperextended.
So there’s your 101 guide to planking! Please let me know if you have any quesitons. I’m happy to help!
Do you include planks into your workouts?