Nail the Plank
I wasn't even sure I was going to do a post on the plank because the majority of people seem to be doing it nowadays and understanding that the crunch belongs in the 90's.
But then I realized I still see far too many really terrible crunches happening and also planks that are being done so poorly it defeats the purpose altogether.
These 2 photos below, ladies & gents, is how not to do the plank, as shown to us by Jen Selter.
Okay, okay I know for the photo on the left it was a stylized photoshoot BUT STILL.
My lower back hurts looking at this.
General overview thoughts I have on the plank:
The plank is a solid, foundational movement that is a pretty good fit universally compared to many other exercises- and also one I personally think is a dead giveaway of someone's basic strength, particularly in the core.
*The only major populations that should be cautious of the plank are: people with high blood pressure/hypertension & heart problems, low blood pressure, and people with certain shoulder issues. *see at end of article
A plank held for more time is not necessarily "better" or more difficult. If you're holding a 10-minute plank, that's great and all, but it doesn't really mean you have abs of steel- it just means you're really good at holding a 10-minute plank.
There's a difference in holding the plank just to get through it and consciously engaging the proper muscles that act as stabilizers for this. Many of a time I've helped a client or someone with a plank and it's rather easy for them and they say they don't really feel much in the core. A little correction (specifics talked below) and engaging in the right way can make an enormous difference.
There are so many progressions and regressions of the plank: as with all exercises, don't just choose the most difficult one, choose the one that you are able to properly perform that is still challenging. If you're doing an extremely difficult progression incorrectly, you're not really reaping in any of the benefit at all- so why are you doing it?
Now let's go into a bit more of specifics with form:
I am going to talk specifically about the basic forearm plank, as I think that is the most widely used basic variation right now.
I know that video was rather quick (like I said, I wasn't planning on doing a tutorial of this one!), so let's break this down in photos:
Upper Body Positioning:
A common mistake I see is people placing their elbows and forearms far too forward. For the standard holding plank, this tends to let you "cheat" and not fully engage the core, along with putting your shoulders in a not-so-stable position.
You want your shoulders to line up directly above the elbows, and for that upper part of your arm to be perpendicular to the floor.
From here, you want to think about actively pulling your elbows back towards your toes. Your arms shouldn't be moving down the mat, but by creating that tension, you are further engaging your serratus anterior, lats, and locking in that core activation- trust me, you're going to feel the difference the second you do it.
This may be the most common area of poor form people execute and usually in 2 ways:
The hips drop too low, creating an excessively arched lower back (lumbar spine). This is usually due to lack of core strength and stability. A cue that usually works with my clients is to imagine drawing your belly button toward your spine and brace the core as if I was going to punch you in the stomach. If your lower back is feeling too much pressure still, I suggest you regress the exercise by dropping to your knees from your toes (think how pushups on the knees are easier than on your toes)
The hips will lift too high and your butt is stuck up in the air. This usually happens progressively as you hold the plank for longer and you get tired- and your body tries to make it easier for you because it's nifty like that. It's like watching a camel hump materialize and grow by the second. But you don't want this to happen! Drop that booty down and you want to think of your entire body as a straight, rigid wooden plank (ha. ha. ha.).
So that is the basic forearm isometric plank! There are a million variations and ways to play around with the plank, but you definitely want to master this one first. What is your favorite type of plank?
Notes from above
*People with higher blood pressure/hypertension and heart issues should be cautious of isometric (non-moving holds where the muscle is contracted) exercises, as the sustained muscle contraction can dramatically increase blood pressure.
*People with low blood pressure should just be cautious of holding their breath or getting up too quickly from the plank, which can increase a feeling of light-headedness.
*Shoulder issues- if you experience sharp or crunching pain in the shoulder as you plank, you should stop. Not one of those times to "just grit your teeth and push through."