Welcome to the 4th and final fitness challenge in my November Fitness Series! This week’s challenge is the plank! If you missed any of the other fitness challenges this month don’t worry! The links to the rest are at the end of this article!
The plank is one of those exercises that most of us love to hate. When my clients walk into their personal training sessions and see planks on the whiteboard an “awww maaan!” can always be heard echoing down the hallway. But, at the same time my goal wall at my personal training studio is dominated by people who want to crush their best plank PR.
So obviously this is an exercise that people want to master, but find uber-challenging. There are a few reasons why this is the case:
1. The plank is an isometric exercise (meaning you’re holding your muscles still rather than moving them). This makes a plank quite different than other core exercises, and more challenging!
2. Breathing can be tough to figure out when you’re engaging your core. Many of us associate holding our abdominal muscles with “sucking in” and holding our breath. In reality though, we should be able to engage our abs while still breathing through an exercise. Takes patience and practice to get the hang of it!
3. Holding a plank can be a tad….boring. What do you think about when all you want to think about is how much planking sucks??
So, the 3 steps for nailing a perfect plank is form, breathing, and practice!
When perfecting your plank form think alignment. Starting with the shoulders and arms, right town to the tips of your toes we want nice, straight lines.
See how my shoulders are stacked right on top of my elbows? This is absolutely critical for proper planking
Saggy hips= BAD FORM. If your hips are sagging down you’re likely putting too much pressure on the lower back and may feel discomfort there.
This is actually a yoga pose called Dolphin Pose, NOT a plank!
If you’re new to planking, getting the hang of proper breathing can take some time, and not breathing properly through your plank can really limit how long you can hold one for. Our muscles need oxygen when they’re working and if we hold our breath that oxygen is going to run out real fast!
How To Build Strength In Your Plank
Step 1: If you’re starting from scratch and can’t hold a plank at all with proper form, start by trying plank pulses! This exercise helps you learn to engage your abdominal muscles and plank with good form
The idea here is that as you get stronger, you will be able to hold each pulse for a few seconds longer, building up to a longer total plank.
Step 2: Practice, Practice, Practice!
The only real way to get better at planking and improve your time is by doing more planks more often. Here are some variations to keep things interesting!
Work on holding a low plank for at least 30 seconds before moving on to the other versions. A low plank puts the most emphasis on the core, which is important for doing other exercises correctly.
The high plank is just a slight variation on the low plank, which puts more emphasis on the upper body (shoulders and arms) vs the core. Depending on your upper body strength you may find this exercise very challenging. Same form rules apply as the low plank, so make sure your shoulders, elbows, and wrists are stacked, and that your hips are sagging too low or sticking up too high.
How Long Should I Be Able to Plank?
Below are some of the estimated plank times that you should be able to achieve. Personally I encourage all of my clients to aim for at least 1 minute!
Many of my new clients start out in the less than 30 second category. The good news is with a little practice and dedication they always see rapid improvements and can stick it out for 60 seconds in no time! Practice makes perfect!
If you’re already a planking champ, why not try some other plank variations to spice up your workouts and keep things interesting?
Below are 3 progressive stages of holding a side plank. Same rules apply here as doing a regular plank, ensuring joints are stacked and the body is in a nice, straight line. Think about pushing your hips up toward the ceiling to really engage the oblique muscles and get the most out of your side planks!
Alternate between a high plank and a low one! This exercise is a great challenge for anyone focused on building better upper body strength
Mountain Climbers are great for building upper body and core strength, AND getting your heart rate up while you’re at it!
Make sure to keep and eye on your form with this one and avoid sticking your hips up in the air! Try to maintain proper high plank form while jumping from foot to foot.
Plank jacks are fantastic for building stability and strength in the shoulders and arms, while working the core at the same time.
Again, form is key here! If you can’t complete this exercise while maintaining good plank form, stick with the regular planks and build up to these.
Remember, practice makes perfect! Add a plank or two to each strength training workout you do every week and watch your strength and stamina improve!
Happy Planking Everyone!
Check out the other Fitness Challenges from this month here:
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