Mind Your Movement: The Plank
By: Ian Cutting
The plank is an incredibly effective full body exercise. Planks force you to contract every muscle you have, creating high levels of tension. This tension helps you build body awareness and stability.
They require total body engagement, and emphasize core and hip stability. This translates into improved performance in many other exercises, such as push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and kettlebell swings.
Learning how to plank correctly will improve your abilities both in and out of the gym, and they are far more than a contest to see how long you can stay propped up on your elbows.
Enter the “hard-style” plank.
So planks require engagement, create tension, build stability, and increase awareness, but what does all of that training jargon even mean? More importantly, how do you planks and how can all of that help you? Well, let’s keep it simple, practical, and break them down so they can help you build yourself up.
The Setup: Make your way to the floor, with your…
1) Forearms on the ground, with elbow directly below shoulders.
a. Elbows bent at 90°.
b. There is a straight line from your shoulders, through your elbows, to the floor.
2) Legs extend straight out behind you, and are close together.
a. Toes are down.
b. Knees raised up off the floor.
3) Back and hips are straight, level.
a. Hips are not arrow /\ shaped, pointed up towards the ceiling.
b. Back is not U shaped, sagging down towards the floor.
This is the setup. Now, let’s get to all of that fun engagement and muscles and stuff we talked about earlier.
A true, hard-style plank means that every muscle is tight, preventing anything that might knock into you from pushing you around. Your body is a true plank, locked into one solid, immovable position. Here’s how it goes.
The Exercise: You’re all setup. Let’s plank.
1) Squeeze your glutes and core, with everything you’ve got.
a. “Squeeze your cheeks”. Think of your butt eating your shorts.
b. “Rock-solid abs”. Tighten, brace yourself, as if someone was about to punch you in the gut (which, you know, someone might).
2) Squeeze your legs, with everything you’ve got.
a. Tighten you thighs (quads and hamstrings), and lower legs (calves)
b. Straighten, squeeze.
3) Squeeze your back, chest, shoulders, and arms, with everything you’ve got.
a. Keep your neck and face relaxed.
b. Everything from your fingertips to your toes is now tight and on fire.
c. Breathe normally.
Hold this position, with your arms, shoulders, back, core, hips, and legs all tight.
And last but not least, to finish bracing and locking yourself in.
4) Try to “pull the floor together”.
a. Pull your elbows towards your toes.
b. Pull your toes towards your elbows.
c. Picture yourself crinkling, folding up the floor beneath you.
The plank creates full body tension by forcing you to contract every muscle you’ve got.
Planks alone are an effective exercise and are important to have in your training toolbox.
The principles of a plank (core engaged, glutes tight…) will also help you perform other exercises.
So from now on when are planking focus, and force your body to work. Set up in the correct alignment, squeeze everything you’ve got, and don’t forget to breathe.
If done properly, you shouldn’t be able think about anything other than not passing out, much less be able to hold a conversation.