Planks are one of the simplest and most effective exercises you can do. When I say “simple” I definitely don’t mean “easy”. It is simple because you can do it anywhere and all you need to do is hold the isometric contraction. Once you have the form down you are all set!
What’s so great about the plank?
This is one of the best ways to increase core strength. You have probably heard “you need to strengthen your core” often from any trainer, athlete or fitness enthusiast. I definitely say those words often. Here are my top reasons why strengthening your core is crucial to overall fitness and wellness.
Core strength enables correct posture. Correct posture creates correct body alignment and makes movement easier overall. This means less back and joint pain.
Core strength improves athletic performance.
Core strength improves balance.
Core strength improves flexibility.
What muscles am I training while I plank?
The primary muscles worked are your rectus abdominus, transverse abdominis and erector spinae. Translation: your abs and the long muscles down your back that help straighten and rotate your torso.
But that’s not all:
You are also using your glutes (butt muscles), shoulders, chest, back and arm muscles!
The plank is one of my favorite exercises because it does so much in such a basic way. There’s a lot going on while you are staying still and contracting your entire body while balancing on your toes (or knees) and elbows (or hands)! So, if you break a sweat without even moving, don’t be surprised!
I am currently halfway through coaching (and participating in) a 21 day plank challenge. We started with 70 people and it appears that 48 are still hanging in there on day 11! Participants chose their own start times and intervals. The hardest version began at 1 minute, adding 10 seconds a day so the final plank will be 4:20 on Day 21. Easier, shorter versions were also available and I encouraged everyone to choose something they could realistically complete as well as feel challenged by.
I added various options (elbow, high, knees, using props, etc) but set a few base rules. The rules include: listen to your body and take modifications as needed, no moving during the plank and stay consistent with a focus on form. The most important rule: this is a challenge not a competition. You are challenging yourself to be better than you were yesterday.
The group is doing well and their rewards of a stronger core, sense of accomplishment and the creation of a new healthy habit are just around the corner!
Next month we will dive into a side elbow plank 21 day challenge and really target the obliques! The obliques are the abdominal muscles that run along your sides. I like to think of them as saran wrap for your belly. They wrap around the deeper muscles and lend extra support.
In summary, core strength is crucial for functional fitness and posture. Planks are a simple, quick do-anywhere exercise that benefits your entire body. I highly recommend adding them to your day!