Plank Training

The plank is the gold standard of isometric core exercise that everyone loves and hates.  Punitive trainers and group exercise instructors will direct their students to “Hold plank for one minute!” or even longer.

Holding perfect form for a minute or more can be very intense so one can accomplish this in stages, working up to the end goal.

Most important is the form.  Frequently it is the low back muscles that fatigue first, especially in those unaccustomed to integrated core training or who spend a lot of time sitting.  Unweighted back extensions are a good way to strengthen the spinal erectors and the quadratus lumborum muscles.  When holding plank position, make a conscious effort to lift the bottom ribs up and in to avoid sagging in the lumbar spine area.

To minimize joint fatigue, stack shoulders directly over elbows so that upper arms are vertical.  Hands may be clasped together initially (this creates leverage which makes the exercise easier) but eventually forearms will be parallel on the floor.  With all the core muscles clenched it is easy to forget about breathing, but focusing on steady, regular breaths will make the exercise more accessible.  It’s hard to hold one’s breath for a whole minute at the best of times, let alone while under muscular duress!

There are many variations of the plank – such as straight arms, turning sideways on one elbow and stacking the legs, yoga’s chaturanga hover with bent elbows (see photo), or even lifting one arm or leg off the floor while maintaining hips square prone alignment and a flat back.  Common to all variations is the need to keep the body in a straight line and have all the muscles of the core (the tree trunk torso) working together.

An amazing 68 year old Australian man set a record for 33 minutes and 40 seconds in the plank which I intend to beat within a year.

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Happy Planking!

Posted by Personal Trainer Laurie Smith