Condition your body, strengthen your core and flatten your stomach – anytime, anywhere with the plank.
Lie on your tummy, on the ground and rest on your forearms with your elbows directly under your shoulders. Place your legs out straight and ‘anchor’ on your toes.
Gently draw your tummy in as you lift your hips off the ground. Ensure your shoulders are drawn away from your ears, your back is not hunched and your bottom is not sticking up in the air.
If you can hold this position without straining, lift your knees off the ground too. Your body should form a straight line like a ‘plank’. If you are tempted to lift the bottom up like a tepee or let your lower back sink down, slowly lower back to your knees and hold.
You can repeatedly lift your knees up for a few seconds at a time until you are strong enough to maintain the ‘up’ position continuously. Even with your knees on the ground you are still gently working your core.
Once you have mastered a safe planking technique it is an easy exercise to do anytime and anywhere. It requires no equipment, other than your own body – and it has a multitude of benefits.
You are learning to hold your own body weight, thereby improving overall strength. Lifting yourself is a convenient reminder to watch your calorie intact if you are carrying some extra kilos.
It also conditions the muscles of the shoulders and thighs by keeping them in a static contraction.
Most importantly, it works your core muscles. These muscles are essential for good posture, a flattened stomach, strong back and efficient pelvic floor.
Having a strong core also allows you to perform better in other fitness activities and not get injured.
There is a reason that the plank is used in personal training sessions, circuit classes, home workout DVDs and beyond. Almost anyone can do it – even if they start on their knees. Once stronger there are so many progressions and variations to choose from that your planking journey will never end. Try some of these:
Move between plank and push up position, by moving one hand then the other – up onto right hand, up onto left hand, down onto right forearm, down onto left forearm.
Lift one elbow off the floor and extending the arm up to the ceiling as you turn your body to the side. Place the elbow back down and repeat on the other side. Keep alternating sides.
Place your elbows on a fitness ball in plank position. Keeping your body still draw circles with your elbows, slowly moving the fitness ball clockwise then anticlockwise.
Place your feet in the stirrups of a TRX. Optional extra – lifting your bottom, bend your knees towards your hips on one side, then the other side. Or, keeping your legs straight lift your bottom towards the ceiling to make an upside down V, then slowly back down to straight.
A word of caution
Don’t get caught up in the ‘how long can your plank for?’ competition. Good technique and working at the level that is right for your body are far more important. Pushing on through when your core has ‘switched off’ and your lower back is doing all the work is simply training – and ingraining the wrong response and you could end up with a back injury not a stronger back.
Likewise, for anyone whose pelvic floor is a little hohum, straining to hold plank can lead to a ‘bearing down’ pressure that only makes this worse. When it comes to Plank it’s definitely a matter of quality over quantity.
By Rachel Livingstone Personal Trainer & Owner of The Health Hub.
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