Planks are a great way to strengthen your core and an exercise I incoporate into most of my programming. Clients often ask me how long to hold a plank to achieve maximum benefits. The answer varies depending on the client, but I firmly believe that after a minute you are no longer building strength in your core, instead you are just building endurance. Rather than just increasing the time spent in a plank you can try some of the following variations to increase the difficulty.
It's best to quit planking when your form deteriorates. Just being able to support your body on your hands for 60 seconds does not mean you are reaping all the benefits of the exercise. Make sure you are fully engaging your core and not sagging throught the lower back. If you can't hold good form for a full minute consider doing shorter planks with perfect form, resting in between for 5-10 seconds and doing enough repetitions to equal 60 seconds. As your strength improves you can increase the length of each plank until you are doing a full, uninterrupted minute.
The easiest plank is the high plank. This consists of a plank on your hands with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your head in line with the rest of your body.
If this position is too difficult to hold for more than 10 seconds start out by doing an incline plank and slowly decrease the incline until you are on the floor. This plank may be difficult for people with carpel tunnel because of the position of the wrists, if so go directly to the elbow plank.
The next plank variation is the elbow plank. When doing an elbow plank make sure that your elbows are directly under your shoulders. It's also best not to interlace your fingers. Instead, have your forearms parallel to each other on the ground. This keeps your shoulders from rotating inward and your back from rounding.
Another way to increase the difficulty of the basic elbow plank is to bring your attention to your abs, feeling your naval draw upward towards your spine. Think about your quads contracting and your elbows drawing towards your feet. By really concentrating on engaging all of your muscles you can get maximum benefits from the exercise.
Once you can complete a 60 second plank with perfect form you can try some of the following variations in order to increase the difficulty. These are arranged from easiest to hardest.
The first variation is the plank with shoulder tap. Start in a high plank and then slowly lift one arm and tap the opposite shoulder. Concentrate on keeping your hips level and trying to shift your weight as little as possible.
After you can complete 3 sets of 10 of the plank shoulder taps you can move on to try the Around the World plank. Work slowly around you body lifting one arm, then the other, then one leg and then the other. Keep your hips level the entire time.
The next two plank variations, the plank pull though and the plank ball roll, are basically different ways of doing the same exercise. Up the challenge of the movement by increasing the weight of the dumbell or using a weighted ball.
The plank Jack takes the basic high plank and adds a cardio componant to it. Holding this plank while jumping in and out for 45 seconds will have you breathing hard!
Although not a basic plank the side plank is another move that most of my clients love to hate. The side plank engages the obliques and helps to tone the waistline. Make sure that your elbow is directly under your shoulder and don't forget to do both sides!
The last 2 plank variations are the most difficult. First is the up and down plank. Try to emphasize keeping your hips level and switch which arm you start with every few reps.
Spider man planks engage the obliques and make you use every muscle of your core to stay level. You can see the difficulty of this move by the way I sound as I try to talk while doing it.
Planks are a great way to build core strength and prevent injury. They only take 60 seconds and they also build up the biceps, neck, shoulder muscles, glutes and thighs. It's hard to think of a more efficient exercise so they should definately be a part of your workout routine.
Feel free to comment below if there are any other plank variations you love to hate. If you need any help getting started with an exercise routine or want to increase your fitness level give me a call at 732-241-2001.