After the squat, I think the plank is up there on the list of great exercises to do for your general health and fitness, and of course, skiing!
Why the plank?
The plank is an isometric exercise.
This means that the muscles used to perform the exercise do not move and change length, but are contracted for the duration.
The plank recruits, well, to save me listing all muscles, pretty much every muscle in the entire body. However, it is particularly great for the core (abdominals, and back muscles).
Strengthening the core is important for all movements, be it when performing a sport or moving around in day to day activities.
With a strong core we avoid bad form when moving and consequently avoid injury.
NB. This does not mean to neglect strengthening individual muscles and joints, but that from a strong centre we can then optimise strength training in our limbs.
The plank improves your flexibility, mobility, balance and posture along with many other health benefits that exercising gives us, such as helping with mental health.
How to perform a plank
Place your hands underneath your shoulders, with your fingers facing forward.
Straighten your arms, being careful to not hyper-extend and ‘lock’ your elbows but keep them ‘soft’ with a small bend.
Lengthen your legs out behind you, pressing your toes into the ground.
Lengthen your body so you are in a straight line.
Pull in through your tummy button, keep your glutes (bum) switched on, and feel strong in your arms and shoulders, pushing into the ground.
If this position hurts your wrists, you can perform the plank resting on your forearms.
Ensure you keep your hips raised, not collapsing in your lower back. If you tire, raise your hips. This is a safer position than letting your hips drop and causing lower back pain.
Hold the plank position for as long as you can.
2 minutes is a good goal to work towards. Holding the plank for longer than that and I feel there are more interesting things to be doing with your life.
Apparently the world record is 3.5hrs. 😳
There are an infinite number of variations and in my little video you will see some, which I will describe below as well as adding a few other ideas.
If you are struggling to hold the plank for any time at all, do not fear!
Try to do a half plank on your knees, extending through your torso so your are long through your thighs and body and not bent at the hips.
Position yourself on your hands and knees, ensuring your knees are under your hips and hands underneath your shoulders. Tense your tummy, trying to make your back as flat as possible.
You can then extend your legs, one at a time, so they are in line with your hip.
You can then extend one leg and the opposite arm.
You can hold each limb for a couple of seconds before using your core to draw your limbs back to their starting position.
Extending your limbs and lifting them off the ground can also be done when holding a standard plank.
Tap one shoulder at a time with your hand, in any form of the floor-facing plank, will challenge your balance and increase focus on the shoulders.
Coming into a standard plank position, bring your knees under your hips, so your are hovering off the ground. From this position you can extend a leg one at a time, and then bring them back.
You can also crawl forwards in this position for a few paces, and then backwards.
It’s more challenging than it sounds!
Coming on to your side, you can start with a half plank, extending your body, long and straight from of your knees. Position yourself on your forearms or hands, depending on which is more comfortable.
Ensure your hips stay raised, and that you stay in a nice straight line as if positioned between two panes of glass.
You can then progress to straightening your legs with either your feet stacked on top of one another, or with your legs split slightly and one foot in front of the other for more more stability. You can then dip and raise your hips or lift your top arm and leg.
Bringing the knee of your top leg in to contact with the elbow of your top arm can challenge you further.
Placing weight on your back when performing a plank will challenge the exercise.
Challenging the body’s balance by using a fit-ball, resting your feet/legs on the ball (the less of your lower body on the ball the more challenging the exercise) and extending your torso away from the ball, positioning your hands under your shoulders.
You can also place a firm ball (such as a basketball) under your hands, too, as well as have your feet on a fit-ball. I can’t do this. It’s impressive!
Using a TRX/suspension band, resting your feet in the straps.
Remember with any form of the plank, performing it with good technique, slowly and controlled (momentum is cheating!) is key to success.
**I did speed up parts of this video!**
As with any exercise, consistency is crucial – if you don’t use it, you loose it!