What is the Core
Before discussing how to perform the perfect plank and why planks are an optimal exercise for strengthening the core, we must first understand where the core is located and why a strong core is so important to the body.
The definition of core is the central or most important part of something. In the human body, the core is the area in your midsection (trunk and pelvis) from the top of your ribs to your inguinal fold and the area all the way around your body including your front, back, and both sides. The muscles within the core area include the rectus abdominis (abdominals), erector spinae (lower back), the internal and external obliques (sides), the transverse abdominis (deep sides), the multifidus (deep spinal), latissimus dorsi (back), lower trapezius (upper back), and gluteus maximus (buttocks).
Functions of the Core
The chief function of the muscles within the core is to stabilize and protect the spine and provide support for the entire body. It’s only through the strength of the core that our upper body is stabilized and not swaying around out of control.
When core muscles are ignored, the lack of muscular support of the spine, especially the lower spine, can lead to back pain and posture related injuries caused by disc movement. This loss of spinal integrity can escalate into a whole myriad of other related problems.
A stronger core helps improve our overall fitness, giving us a strong foundation for performing day-to-day activities. Improved balance is greatly enhanced which in turn helps keep us from falling, thus preventing possibly injuries.
What is a Plank
A plank is the static holding of the body in a position similar to a pushup. The arms can either be extended straight down with the elbows locked and the upper body weight resting on the hands or with the elbows bent so the forearms are resting parallel on the floor in what is called sphinx position. Depending on arm position, the hands (in straight arm) or elbows (in sphinx) should be placed directly underneath the shoulders. Once in plank position, maintaining good form is of primary concern. If you notice your back starting to sway or the need to stick your butt up in the air to alleviate pressure on your lower back, it’s time to drop to the floor and rest.
When teaching proper form for doing a plank, I give my clients a visual of a chicken on a skewer. I tell them that their spine is the skewer and their job is to pull their chicken meat toward the skewer. I often get a laugh, but I think it helps them visualize that their spine needs to be straight without their butt sticking up in the air or their back swaying toward the floor.
Six Steps to a Perfect Plank
Following these simple steps once you’re in plank position will help you perform the perfect plank without putting undue stress on your lower back.
- Engage the core (pull your chicken meat toward your skewer)
- Tuck your pelvis under (do a posterior pelvic tilt)
- Pull your belly button upward and toward the spine
- Contract your glutes (buttocks)
- Contract your quads (thighs)
- Don’t forget to breathe
Progression of the Plank for Beginners
Adaptations can be made to the basic plank to make it easier to perform for those just starting out. Beginners may need to put their hands against a countertop so that their angle is easier. As they get stronger, they can drop to a lower surface like a chair, and eventually move to the floor. Beginners can also start the plank progression on the floor with their weight on their knees rather than their toes.
How Long Should a Plank be Held
There’s a lot of debate on how long is long enough or too long when holding a plank. Most agree that holding a plank for two minutes with good form is a great goal to set. For many, going past the two-minute-mark leads to poor form which can put unnecessary stress on the lower back. Three sets of one-minute planks is another great way to keep the form in check and achieve great benefits for the core from planking.
- • What variations of the plank do you do?
- • Do you go for max timed holds or break your planks into shorter sets?
- • What other core exercise do you do?