One of the most common requests I get from clients is that they want to strengthen their core. They struggle with their midsection and are looking for a way to tone and tighten these muscles.
A plank is a perfect way to target this area!
The core is composed of all the muscles from the front to the sides to the back of your spinal column. They include your abs, obliques, glutes and back muscles to name a few.
In doing the perfect plank, it’s not about how long you can do this exercise, but more about how well you activate your core muscles and align your body.
Studies have shown that you can get as much benefit from doing ten second planks properly than by holding planks for a minute or longer, done incorrectly.
Let’s break down plank activation into four parts:
The shoulder blades and the muscles between, which are your rhomboids, should be engaged. Visualize, then feel your shoulder blades squeezing slightly down and together, as if you were putting your shoulder blades into your back pockets. Keep your posture aligned from your ears to your shoulders. By doing this you prevent your head from jetting forward. You now have postural alignment in the upper body.
Now think about the muscles underneath your armpits. These are referred to as your lats. You can engage these muscles by visualizing you are holding an orange in one hand and you place it under your armpit, and squeeze it while minimally moving your arm. When you do this on both sides simultaneously, you have activated your lats.
To activate your stomach muscles, you can visualize there is a string that comes through your lower back that is tied to your belly button, pulling your belly button straight back. Another way to think about this is called ‘Alli Abs.’ Imagine somebody is about to punch you in the stomach, you would naturally tighten your stomach muscles in a straight back motion.
Now engage your glutes. When we think about our ‘butt,’ you can visualize activating it with a simple phrase that goes like this: A** like an apple, not like applesauce!
Activating these four areas simultaneously will fire off all the areas you want to challenge when doing a plank. Importantly be sure to continue to breath freely.
In the basic plank you have two choices in arm positions. Planks from your elbows, or planks from your hands with your arms fully lengthened. When you do your planks from your elbows, you have minimal compression on your wrists and strong focus on the core. When you do your planks with your arms fully extended, the arms and shoulders get an additional challenge. Both variations of the plank are very effective. You can choose the one that works best for you and your body or simply integrate both versions into your training sessions
Alignment is one of the main focal points, so not only does a plank improve your core strength, it will help to develop very good posture. Take note that your hips stay low enough to be aligned with your body. If your hips are raised up, we call that booty mountain! Avoid booty mountain! Or on the contrary, allowing your hips to sag low dipping down toward the ground causes compression through the vertebrae of your lower back, which is what you want to avoid.
Now that you understand the important components of doing a perfect plank, you can actually apply this positioning in most any exercise that you do.
By keeping consistent with this exercise, you will not only have an amazingly strong core, you will develop great posture too!