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Perfecting the Plank

Whether your fitness goals are fat-loss, strength, endurance or a combination, perfecting the plank should be a major part of your routine.

If you are new to the plank, you've come to the right spot! 

Even if you've never planked, you've probably heard of them or seen pictures on the internet or in fitness magazines. 

The problem is, even though they are so popular, they are often done incorrectly. 

But, before we get into the technique let's chat a bit about what exactly the plank is, what areas of your body it works and why perfecting it is so important. 

The plank is referred to as a core stability exercise. 

This means the plank, when done correctly, challenges your core's (abs, obliques, low back) ability to hold your spine, rib cage and pelvis in a good position against gravity. 

Yes, your abs play a larger role than just looking good. They actually attach to your ribs, spine and pelvis, helping with both movement and stability of those joints. 

By improving the stability of your core with planks, you will:

  • Improve core strength 
  • Improve posture
  • Improve balance
  • Increase the main function of your abs -- to resist spinal motion
  • Reduce low-back pain
  • Reduce your risk of injury in and out of the gym
  • Improve your strength, technique and control of other exercises

This is why the plank is one of the greatest exercises and one that we want all our members to get really good at, especially our beginners. 

Not only does planking improve your core strength, but it transfers to you getting better and stronger with other exercises like squats, deadlifts, burpees and mountain climbers. 

The better your core stability, spine position and posture is during exercise, the better you will perform and the lower your risk of injury will be.

Let's get into how to perfect the plank!

1| Set-Up

Front Plank 

The front plank is the most popular plank of all. Because you are facing the ground, the front plank really challenges the strength of your abs, especially your rectus abdominis (think 6-pack). The front plank challenges your abs to work hard to prevent your low-back and hips from sagging or over-arching. This is huge for both performance and injury prevention (especially at your low-back). 

  1. Start on forearms with toes dug in the ground
  2. Make sure fists are directly under your eyes
  3. Keep legs straight
  4. Elbows should be shoulder width

For beginners: same as above but have forearms on elevated surface such as bench or table. 

Over time work on longer holds and having forearms on surface closer to the floor.

Side Plank

The side plank is a fantastic exercise to work you lateral obliques (think love-handles). Your obliques attach to both your rib cage and pelvis. When they are strong, they actually help pull down the front of your rib cage, taking stress off your low back and improving the efficiency of your breathing during exercise and at rest. 

  • Start on side with elbow directly under the shoulder
  • Keep weight on entire forearm
  • Have legs stacked and straight
  • Toes pulled up

For beginners: same as above but have knees bent and legs tucked behind you. 

This position makes it easier to hold a solid plank while working on improving your strength. Over time work on longer holds and extend legs straight when ready. 

2| The Execution

Now that your set-up is locked in, let's get into how to perform the plank. 

Front Plank

  1. Once you're in the right position, lift yourself up
  2. Maintain a straight line from head to toes
  3. Keep hips tucked under and glutes squeezed
  4. Keep stomach tight (like holding a light stomach crunch)
  5. Reach chest up away from floor
  6. Work on controlled breathing in through nose and out through mouth
  7. You should feel ab muscles working

Side Plank 

  1. Once you're in the right position, lift hips up
  2. Maintain a straight line from head to toes
  3. Keep hips tucked and glutes squeezed
  4. Keep hips high and forward
  5. Reach top hand as high as possible
  6. Work on controlled breathing in through nose and out through mouth
  7. You should feel inside lateral ab working

For more information on proper planking technique, click on the green tab below. 

The Perfect Plank

Master your technique!

Read More

3| Common Mistakes

Although, they look simple, planks might be the most butchered exercise going. 

One reason is they are tough to get into the right position. 

Some people lack the strength, posture and mobility to get into and hold the right position. These people need to progress slowly while working on weak points.

Some of us are just simply unaware of our position. 

We hear it a lot from new members who may have planked before but tell our coaches how much "different" and often times "harder" the plank is once we get them into the right position. 

Here are a few common mistakes to avoid:
(Incorrect form pictured left, correct form pictured right)

  1. Hip sag
    This takes the stress off your abs and places it on your low-back and spine.

  2. Shoulder sag
    During your plank, think of actively reaching your chest away from floor. This not only makes your plank stronger but is also better for your shoulders.

  3. Fists too far forward/shoulder too far out
    Make sure your fists are aligned directly under your eyes. This will put your shoulders in a more stable position.

  4. Head up
    Avoid excessive stress on your neck by keeping head and eyes down.

  5. Progressing too quickly
    Be sure not to move to more advanced plank variations too soon. Master the basics

  6. Not tucking hips and bracing abs
    This is the most common mistake. Work to rotate your hips under while bracing your abs throughout. Picture you have a belt on and want the belt buckle facing directly underneath you, not towards your toes.

  7. Holding your breath
    The plank should not be a high-intensity exercise. The key is to master the movement while controlling your breath. Focus on owning the exercise with easy inhales through your nose and long exhales through your mouth.

4| The progression

Once you've mastered the plank, the key to improving your core strength is to keep progressing and making your planks more challenging.

If you are new to the plank, spend 4 weeks improving your core strength with the standard plank before moving on to more advanced variations with our sample template below. 

Weeks 1 & 2:

Day 1: Front plank -- 3 sets of :20 

Day 2: Side plank -- 3 sets of :20/side 

Weeks 3 & 4:

Day 1: Front plank -- 4 sets of :25-:30 

Day 2: Side plank -- 4 sets of :25-:30/side 

Above we are allowing for enough time (2 weeks) to improve technique while also improving our strength and stability by adding both sets and time to the planks. 

If you are starting with the beginner version of the front and side planks, repeat the same sequence after your 4-weeks with the more advanced version. 

Here are a few ways to increase the challenge of your plank:

  • Increase the duration of the hold
  • Decrease the rest between sets
  • Place feet on elevated surface 
  • Add weight on your back or hip 
  • Lessen points of contact with floor (ex - 1-leg front plank)

Click HERE for some of our favorite ADVANCED planks!

#HappyPlanking 💪

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