The plank, a.k.a. abdominal bridge, is a popular core strength exercise that can be performed literally anywhere.
The beauty of the plank is that it challenges multiple abdominal muscles while putting very little stress on the spine. Commonly done in an isometric progression, I always try to incorporate some form of a plank at the end of my group fitness classes – it has become a staple in my exercise toolbox to challenge my patrons’ core strength and slowly helping them sculpting the abs.
You don’t really need any equipment to perform an effective plank exercise. All you need is your full commitment and proper techniques to perform that perfect plank.
... So, what are the keys reminders to look for in perfecting the planks?
Here are some tips to break down and master the plank from head to toe (or knee):
Look straight down the floor (not down to your shoes, or straight at the mirrors) in between those arms, while keeping the neutral spine position. This helps us avoid any unnecessary strain on your neck.
Generally for standard plank, there are two points of contact between yourself and the ground. One is your arms and the other is your toes (or knees), as explained later in the article. Also, there are two common variations in performing standard plank; over your forearms or over your elbows. Whichever version that you choose, your forearms or elbows should be placed directly under your shoulders. If they are too far forward, you might risk the excessive strain on your lower back while if they are too far back, you could possibly hurt your shoulder.
Shoulder position (or more specifically the scapula, a.k.a. the shoulder blades) is one of the three crucial components that define a good plank. People always hear me saying “Do not spread your wings” – what it means is to not retract the shoulder blades towards the sky (or ceiling). Instead, they should be seen as flushed with the rest of your upper back.
How to get to this position? Plant your forearms into the ground while elevating your upper back; sturdy like a surfboard, but light as a feather at the same time.
This is the other crucial component (the most important to get it right in my opinion) that often gets jeopardized while performing the plank. Remember what I said earlier about being sturdy like a surfboard? Your lower back should be at the same neutral position as your spine, with no sagging or dipping down to the ground. This is where you can optimally brace your core position for greater stabilization of your plank.
The moment you let your lower back dip to the ground:
- You risk lower body injuries
- You essentially shut off your abdominal muscle contractions, which defeats the purpose of performing plank in the first place
Remember the only thing that should be sagging down to the ground is your loose t-shirt; everything else should be held at an upright neutral position.
The final crucial element to get to that perfect plank is your pelvis position. Once again, we should be in the neutral spine position. “Squeeze the glutes in” or “tuck the butt” are the common reminders we say to posteriorly rotate your pelvis in order to confirm that your abdominal muscles are engaged, and your lower back remains neutral.
Toe (or Knee)
Finally your toe (or knee), the other point of contact that you have between yourself and the ground while performing your plank. If you are on your knees, they should be at an angle between 30 to 45 degrees from the floor. If your knees are directly under your pelvis, you are more likely to be performing a table-top or box-square hold, rather than the plank. And if you are on your toe, they should be planted down to the ground while once again keeping everything in between right up to your head in that upright, neutral spine alignment.
Oh, one last thing! Like any other isometric exercises, your whole body should be relaxed and you should control your breathing to achieve the optimum result of your plank.
There you go–those are all the tips that you need to know to perfect the standard plank. Once you have perfected this standard plank position, you can start adding duration to intensify the exercise, and later I will share with you some of my favourite plank progression exercises!