Learn How to Do a Plank to Improve Core Strength

Learn How to Do a Plank to Improve Core Strength

Let's talk about a little exercise we all love to hate but can't deny its ab-tastic benefits – the plank.

Now, you’ve probably seen some planks that have made you cringe harder than a bad pickup line.

The truth is, there IS a way of doing the plank right.

And I’m going to give you the lowdown. Because let's face it, we're not here for mediocre planks – we're here to slay those abs.

What Is a Plank, And What Muscles Does it Work?

A plank is a static bodyweight exercise that primarily targets the muscles of the core, including the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, obliques, and erector spinae.

Planks engage muscles throughout the body, including the shoulder blades, chest, back, and legs, making it a comprehensive full-body workout. By maintaining a plank position, you challenge your core stability and endurance, which are essential for supporting proper posture, preventing injury, and enhancing overall athletic performance.

The Benefits of Doing Planks

Planks offer numerous benefits beyond just core strength. They improve posture by strengthening the muscles responsible for maintaining proper alignment of the spine. Planks enhance overall stability and balance, which are crucial for daily activities and athletic performance. Regularly incorporating planks into your workout routine can also help reduce the risk of lower back pain and injury by strengthening the muscles that support the spine.

What Do Planks Help With?

Planks are effective for improving core strength, stability, and endurance. They target the muscles responsible for maintaining proper posture and spinal alignment, which can alleviate lower back pain and reduce the risk of injury during physical activities. It engages different muscles throughout the whole body too, making it a versatile exercise for enhancing overall strength and athleticism.

Muscles Worked By Planks

Planks primarily engage core muscles like the torso, transverse abdominis, obliques, and erector spinae. They activate muscles in the shoulders, chest, back, and legs, providing a holistic workout.

By targeting multiple muscle groups, planks contribute to overall strength, stability, and endurance. The engagement of these various muscle groups also translates to improved functional strength, benefiting daily activities and sports performance.

How Many Calories Does Planking Burn?

The number of calories burned during planking exercise mat also varies depending on factors such as body weight, muscle mass, and the duration and intensity of the exercise. While planking primarily targets muscle strength and endurance rather than calorie burning, incorporating it into a regular workout routine can contribute to overall calorie expenditure and weight management.

How to Perform the Plank Exercise to Improve Core Strength

Learning how to do the plank exercise correctly is crucial for maximizing its benefits and preventing injury. Start by positioning yourself face down on the floor, and supporting your body weight on your arms and feet. Keep your arms directly beneath your shoulders and your body in a neutral position from the top to your heels. 

Your elbows and knees should be directly beneath your shoulder blades, and your upper body should form a neutral position from your neck and head to your feet and heels. Perform a core exercise by drawing your navel toward your spine and squeezing your glutes. Hold this position for a designated amount of time, aiming to keep your body stable and aligned throughout the exercise.

Position Upper Body

When performing a plank, ensure that your body forms are properly aligned to maintain stability and prevent strain. Place your arms directly beneath your shoulders, keeping your forearms parallel to each other on the ground. Distribute your weight evenly between your elbows and forearms, avoiding excessive pressure on any one point. Maintain a correct form by keeping your head in line with your back, and avoiding any excessive tilting or arching.

Position Lower Body

In a plank position, your lower body plays a crucial role in maintaining stability and proper alignment. Position your toes hip-width apart, pressing them firmly into the ground to engage the muscles of your legs and abs. Keep your heels in line with your toes, avoiding any lifting or dropping of the hips. Engage your glutes and thigh muscles to support your lower body and prevent sagging in the hips or lower back.

How Long to Hold a Plank

The duration of a plank hold can vary depending on individual fitness levels and goals. Beginners may start by holding a plank for 20-30 seconds and gradually increase the time as they build strength and endurance.

Advanced practitioners may hold a plank for 60 seconds or longer to challenge their abs further. It's essential to focus on maintaining proper form and alignment throughout the entire duration of the plank, rather than sacrificing form for a longer hold time.

Plank Variations

Variations of the plank exercise offer versatility and allow individuals to target specific muscle groups or add intensity to their workouts. Some common plank variations include side planks, planks with leg lifts, forearm planks with hip dips, and planks with shoulder taps. These variations can be incorporated into a workout routine to add variety, challenge different muscle groups, and prevent plateaus in progress.

1. Side Planks

  • Start by lying on your side with your legs extended.
  • Prop yourself up with your elbow directly beneath your shoulder or with your hand flat on the ground.
  • Engage your core and lift your hips off the ground until your body forms a straight line from head to heels.
  • Keep your shoulders, hips, and feet stacked.
  • Hold this position for the desired amount of time, usually starting with 15-30 seconds and gradually increasing as you build strength.
  • Repeat on the other side.

2. Planks with Leg Lifts

  • Begin in a traditional plank position, either on your hands or forearms, with your body in a straight line from head to heels.
  • Keeping your core engaged and your hips stable, lift one leg off the ground, maintaining a straight line with your body.
  • Hold the lifted leg for a moment, then lower it back down.
  • Alternate legs for the desired number of repetitions or hold one leg up for a set amount of time before switching.

3. Forearm Planks with Hip Dips

  • Start in a forearm plank position with your elbows directly beneath your shoulders and your body forming a straight line.
  • While keeping your core engaged and your body stable, slowly rotate your hips to one side, lowering them towards the floor without touching.
  • Return to the center and then repeat the movement on the other side.
  • Make sure to keep your core tight and your back flat throughout the movement to prevent excessive twisting.

4. Planks with Shoulder Taps

  • Begin in a traditional plank position on your hands, with your body in a straight line from head to heels.
  • While maintaining stability and avoiding excessive movement in your hips, lift one hand off the ground and tap the opposite shoulder.
  • Return the hand to the starting position and repeat the movement with the opposite hand.
  • Keep your core engaged to minimize rocking and maintain balance throughout the exercise.

Modifications and Variations

Modifications and variations of the plank exercise cater to individuals of all fitness levels and abilities. Beginners may start with modified plank variations, such as performing the exercise on their knees or elevating their upper body on an incline. As strength and endurance improve, individuals can progress to more challenging variations, such as incorporating movement or adding resistance. It's essential to choose variations that align with individual fitness goals and abilities while maintaining proper form and alignment throughout the exercise.

Common Plank Mistakes

Despite its simplicity, the plank exercise is often performed incorrectly, compromising effectiveness and risking injury. Here are some common plank mistakes:

  • Sagging Hips. Allowing the hips to sag toward the floor is a common error in plank form. This can put excessive stress on the lower back and reduce the engagement of core muscles. Maintain a straight line from your head to your heels. Engage your abs and imagine a straight line running through your body. If needed, slightly tuck your pelvis to help prevent the torso from sagging.
  • Elevated Hips (Mountain Position). Creating an inverted "V" shape with elevated hips, also known as the mountain position, reduces the core tight and places excessive strain on the shoulders. Keep your body in a straight line. Ensure that your shoulders are directly above your elbows (in a forearm plank) or hands (in a high plank). Engage your muscles and maintain a neutral spine.
  • Incorrect Elbow or Hand Placement. Placing the elbows too far forward or backward or allowing the hands to be too wide can affect the opposite shoulder stability and compromise proper alignment starting position. In a forearm plank, place your elbows directly beneath your shoulders. In a high plank, place your hands directly beneath your shoulders. Keep your hands or elbows shoulder-width apart for stability.
  • Dropping the Head. Allowing the head to drop or looking forward instead of maintaining a perfect, plank position can lead to neck strain and misalignment. Keep your head in line with your back. Focus on a spot on the floor to maintain a neutral neck position. Avoid looking up or letting your head drop toward the ground.
  • Overarching (Hyperextension) of the Lower Back. Arching the lower back excessively can lead to discomfort and potential strain on the lumbar. Engage your core muscles to prevent excessive arching. Imagine pulling your belly button toward your back to maintain a perfect form. If needed, slightly tuck your pelvis to avoid overarching.

By paying attention to proper leg form and avoiding these common mistakes, you can maximize the effectiveness of planks while minimizing the risk of leg injuries.

How to Add Planks to Your Workouts

Adding planks to your workout routine is straightforward and offers numerous benefits. Incorporate planks as standalone exercises or integrate them into circuits, HIIT workouts, or bodyweight routines. Begin with warm-up or cooldown planks to activate your entire core muscles and improve stability.

Increase duration or intensity gradually, experiment with several variations of single leg plank, and customize workouts to maintain engagement and effectiveness. Incorporating a plank properly into your routine regularly can improve core strength, stability, and overall fitness, leading to enhanced performance in various activities reduced risk of injury less stress in daily life.

Click here to Join IBEX Training and start your free trial today!