Basics · Blog · Fitness

Back to the basics: Mastering the plank

When I was a child, I thought my dad was Peter Pan. I was certain that when my dad checked on us at night, he’d go to the window and take off toward the third star to the right. I have no idea why I thought this. It’s not like Peter Pan was a superhero or anything. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a pretty cool kid. He figured out the anti-aging secret, he lived in a tree house, and he could fly. Maybe the little boy that still lives in my dad is what made me connect the two. Who knows.

I am the opposite of Peter Pan in one way, well two ways. One, I’m not a boy (obviously), and two, I was always in too much of a hurry to grow up. But the idea of living in a tree house and flying sound awesome, even to adult me. It must feel so freeing.

I like Disney’s version of Peter Pan because the villain, Captain Hook, is silly and not at all scary. Now Ursula, the sea witch from The Little Mermaid, is terrifying. When I saw that movie for the first time as a kid, I hid on the theater floor. But not with Captain Hook. Even the crocodile is a bit silly and I never, ever want to encounter one of those in real life. The only part of the Peter Pan story that I find a little scary is the idea of walking the plank. This probably is due to my deep fear of sharks (my husband tells me it’s irrational but I beg to differ). Being sent off the boat to the unknown watery depths below sound terrible. I have a very healthy respect for the ocean and everything that lives in it.

Good thing the exercise known as the plank has nothing to do with boats, oceans, or deep sea animals. The only thing the exercise and the board walked on the pirate ship have in common is the straight line between point A and point B. For the exercise, point A is your head and point B is your feet. When you hold the pose, your body should form a straight line from your head to your toes. Easy peasy, right?

back-to-the-basics-plank

Not really. Like pushups, bad form can plague people attempting to do the plank. Your hips may sag or your butt may stick up into the air. In these cases, your target muscles aren’t being properly worked and that is not cool. Sharks or no sharks.

I was first introduced to the plank (exercise) in yoga but I don’t suppose it’s limited there because it is included in so many well-rounded exercise routines. The plank is a great move to master for overall core health, strength, and stability. It works multiple muscles in your abdomen (transverse abdominus, rectus abdominus, obliques) as well as your glutes.

Basic technique

To do a plank correctly, do not hunch your back, drop your hips, or lift your head. Your body should form a straight line and your gaze should be down at the floor so your head and neck stays in alignment with the rest of your body. You should feel your abs engage from the top to the bottom.

  1. Get into a push-up position.
  2. Engage your core by drawing your belly button into your spine.
  3. Hold for the prescribed amount of time.

To make it easier, drop your knees to the floor and hold the position. To make it harder, try one of the variations listed below.

Variations

    • Forearm plank – From push-up position, bend your elbows and rest your bodyweight on your forearms. Hold your form.
    • Single-leg plank – From the starting position, lift one leg toward the ceiling, keeping your hips parallel to the ground. Hold your form.
    • Reverse plank – Sit on the floor with your feet extended in front of you. Place your palms on the floor slightly behind you. Press into your palms and lift your hips toward the ceiling until your body forms a straight line from head to toe. Hold your form.
    • Side plank – Lay down on your side with your feet together and one forearm directly under your shoulder. Draw your belly button into your spine and raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from head to toe. Hold your form. (Note: This version does not directly work the rectus abdominus muscle, which is the muscle responsible the “six pack abs” look.)

Go forth and get ripped

For reasons I will go into later, I am focusing on the side plank right now. I plan to do more single-leg planks later this year but for now, it’s not what’s best for my body and it is time for me to focus on healing.

All you folks doing the plank right now, you know how awesome it is. If anyone hasn’t yet tried it or isn’t doing it as a regular part of your exercise, consider adding it to your routine. If you do, you will enjoy more core strength and stability, better posture, better balance, and less risk of injury to your back.

What’s your favorite plank move?

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