When it comes core/abdominal training, the plank is usually the go to choice for gym-goers and trainers. However, it is one of the most poorly performed exercises and most people don’t realize they are doing it incorrectly. However, There is a lot of really great ways to do planks and great ways to program them into your workouts.
The key to progressing your plank (and increasing your core/low back strength) is not to always to increase the time of your plank, but to increase the level of difficultly of your plank variation. Hence the 30-second plank rule! If you can hold a proper plank for 30-seconds (key work being proper), then it’s time to move on to more challenging variations. Not only does this mean you are strong enough to take it to the next level, adding variation/additional challenges is always a good way to keep the from getting bored with your exercises and to increase your feeling of mastery. After introducing one of these new plank variations to a client, they will often say, “Wow. I didn’t think I would be able to do that!”
Here’s what you need to know before you keep planking:
Get your technique in order
Stop holding a marathon plank
5 variations to level-up your plank game
Exercise “cues” are phrases that help you to get you into the correct position during an exercise. Unfortunately, the plank looks like an exercise that is easily replicated at face value but many are not able to really “feel” it in the right places. Here are some cues that may help you get the maximum tension in your core, where you want to feel them.
Keep your gaze down, looking at your hands. This creates a neutral spine from crown of the head down to your heels.
Avoid sinking through your shoulder blades, rather think of using elbows to help push you up and away from the floor
Tuck your tail between your legs, meaning imagine tucking the bottom of your pelvis underneath you.
Power up through the thighs and butt. This will help prevent sinking through your middle. Plank is more of a contraction/tension through the entire body.
Focus pulling elbows and feet towards each other, this ramps up the tension in the midsection and make is a more “active” movement.
Maintain nice, easy breathing and release stored up tension in your neck.
Ditch the Long Duration Planks
In my early early years of training, I used to torture clients with marathon planks, pushing clients to make it to the 2 or 3 minute mark. Over time, (thanks to leading professionals in the field like Tony Gentilcore and Stuart McGill for spreading their knowledge) I adjusted my approach and started focusing my attention on making my clients work harder in the position vs. longer. I like to think of it as, “you’re not hanging out in this position, your working and you’re working hard.” . In an isometric exercise like the plank, you’re meant to be creating tension. If you are creating a great amount of tension, you would not be able to do this for an extended period of time. We know that the harder we work, the higher the weight or intensity, the shorter amount of time you will be able to. To get more bang for you buck, create maximum tension in your plank for shorter amount of time, but for more reps (example: 6 rounds of 20 second plank rather than hold a 2-minute plank). Once we try to go for maximum or upper-limit time on planks not only do we lose tension, we tend to lose form and technique as well.
This is not to say that we will occasionally throw in a 1-minute variation EVER because sometimes it may make sense, but for the majority of the time, we could benefit from shorter more challenging variations rather than marathon planking.
5 Plank Variations
1) Cable Row Plank
2) Stir The Pot
3) TRX Body Saw
4) Plank Step Out
5) Plank Push Through