Thursday, April 30, 2015

Perfecting Your Plank

Several months ago, I wrote an article called "Perfecting Your Push-up," in which I gave you some insight on how to correct some common flaws in a seemingly simple (yet incredibly intricate) movement.

This post will be a sequel to that post, as a solid plank is the foundation of a push-up.

The plank is a staple exercise in many bodybuilding, strength and conditioning, and even powerlifting programs. It's an isometric movement that teaches (ideally) total body rigidity and stability. The forearm or straight-arm planks can be excellent exercises to develop the core if executed properly. Here are some cues to help you get your planks straight:

  1. If you're doing the plank on your hands, make sure your fingers are spread so that you can "grip" the ground." If you are doing the plank on your elbows, keep the arms parallel to one another, still spreading your fingers
  2. Stack the elbows directly underneath the shoulders in both variations
  3. Place the feet close to one another
  4. Squeeze your butt*
  5. Actively pull your shoulder blades downward to engage the lats*
  6. Do not let the hike the hips or let the hips drop
  7. Keep the neck in line with the rest of the spine
  8. Breathe

I put asterisks next to numbers 4 and 5, because I think they are the most common mistakes in a plank. We like to think of the plank as an "ab" exercise, but yet, we forget about the muscles that should assist the abdominals in this movement like the latissimus dorsi and the gluteus maximus. If you're not squeezing your butt, you're likely drifting into hyper extension, and if your lats aren't engaged, your shoulders are in an unstable position. All of these synergist muscles work complement each other beautifully to stabilize the core.

One other crucial mistake I have seen people make is to try to go until absolute muscular failure. They hold the plank as long as they can even if their bodies are shaking and their hips start to drop towards the floor. This completely defeats the purpose of the exercise and reinforces a bad position. As soon as you lose the integrity of the movement, stop! If you start to shake, give yourself a minute or two to recover before doing another set. Remember, more is not always better.

When the standard plank becomes too easy for you, you can try other variations: single arm planks, single leg planks, weighted planks, shoulder taps (in which you touch one shoulder and then the other shoulder without moving the hips), plank press-ups (in which you go from a forearm plank into straight arm plank, and back into a forearm plank) and so on and so forth! There are many different possibilities.

The next time you want to do planks, make sure you're doing them properly! You will get more out of the movement, and that strength will translate into other activities.

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