Core Fitness: Plank Exercises for a Strong Core

Don’t have an exercise ball? No problem. All you need is your body and a padded but solid surface. (And I’ recommend securing your pets in another room. My husky sometimes gets a bit “too helpful.”)

Let me first distinguish this from the planking fad (balancing face down with arms at sides in tricky and often dangerous positions), which seems to have taken the world by storm. Of course, thanks to photo’s shared on social media. Humans, left to their own devices, will take something perfectly safe and healthy and make it into something extreme and risky.

Add challenge by reaching with one hand.

Basic plank position. Body is balanced on toes and palms of hands. Note that shoulders are strong. Shoulder blades retracted (pulled together) and abdominals are tight so there is no downward “sagging.”

Planking, the exercise, has long been part of yoga routines and military fitness regimens. It’s an isometric core strength exercise, most often performed in the front hold position – either balanced on the palms of the hands or on the elbows and forearms with hands folded into a triangular base of support. The primary muscles strengthened are the abdominals, back and shoulders.
The forearm plank position is easier on the wrists and better for people with concerns about shoulder health. It is also a bit lower intensity. The body assumes the plank position but upper body balance is maintained on the triangle formed by elbows, forearms and folded hands. (praying is optional but highly recommended :))

I find it easier to keep the body in a firm, flat position using the forearm plank.

Here is the proper lower body position.

One way to up the intensity with either of these planks is to balance the feet on the laces rather than the toes. That challenges the balance a bit. Then, if you want a real challenge, push with hands with forearms and roll your body into balance on toes. Your upper body will have to “reach” to hold its plank. This increases the difficulty and the fun.

Side plank is a third option. The plank in this position strengthens the transverse and oblique abdominals along with the gluteal muscles and hip abductors (outside of the hip). In this position the body is “stacked” on it’s balance points – the side of one foot and the forearm bent at 90 degrees under the body.

Side plank with arm tight to side.

You can add challenge to this exercise by raising the top leg and holding, raising the arm upward, or both. Below is a a photo of American mile record holder Alan Webb demonstrating the high intensity version of the side plank:

Mile record holder, Alan Webb emphasizes core strengthening in his regular routine.

Notice that we could draw quite a straight line from Alan’s head along the side of his body to his foot on the ground. This is what the plank, performed well, always accomplishes. Solid and straight body position, maintained with the core muscles of the torso (front, back and sides), to resist the pull of gravity. No sagging. No rounding. No arching.

These three exercises: front plank on hands, front plank on forearms and side plan on one forearm are simple to do and require no equipment. You can perform them at home or at the field.

Here’s the prescription:
Beginners: hold each plank with perfect position for 30 seconds (progress to 60 seconds), then try 2 sets, then 3.
Intermediate: Add the body challenges, reaching a hand, rocking to laces. Maintain perfect body position. (hold 60 seconds plus) Add sets.
Advanced: Add the challenges. Create your own. Challenge your friends to a contest – who can hold the longest? Try the Alan Webb version.

Look at what planking (the exercise) can do for your physique!

Coaches, if you think this is just for your players, listen to this: According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the current world record for the plank position is 1 hour 20 minutes and 5.01 seconds, set in Naperville, IL on December 3, 2011 by 54 year old George Hood. Are you gonna let that go unchallenged?

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