I'm so excited to share this guest post with you all by my lovely friend, Jessica Dang, of Hello To Fit! She is a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor and one bomb.com wellness blogger. Check out her top 3 plank variations below...
We’ve heard it all before: planks are the best exercise for your core! Get a six-pack while planking! Who needs sit-ups when you have planks?
While none of those statements are 100% accurate, (in my opinion, one of them is completely incorrect) the plank exercise is an important one for building stability around the trunk.
It’s true than numerous types of ab exercises can help improve core strength. However, it could be argued that planks (and their variations) trump them all. How?
· When done correctly, over time can contribute to proper alignment of the spine: since a plank involves an isometric contraction (muscle fibers do not shorten or lengthen, AKA you’re holding still), our body is better able to maintain proper posture when sitting, standing, running, etc.
· In a plank, the spine is loaded in a neutral position (rather than trunk flexion, or rounding forward as in a sit-up): this can be more beneficial for someone with back pain because in a plank, the spine maintains its natural curvature. With the sit-up/crunch exercise, the spine rounds (flexes), which is a motion that may further exacerbate pain.
· Planks allow the entire body to work: not only do abs and back get to work in stabilizing your spine, but chest, shoulders, hips, glutes, and legs get to strengthen as well. It’s an all-for-one!
3 Variations to Step Up Your Plank Game
Starting with our foundation is key. If you’ve mastered the basic plank and are up for a challenge, check out the following options for changing things up.
Before trying any of these on your own, remember that this is not a personal exercise prescription. Please reach out to your doctor, physical therapist, or fitness professional before attempting any of the exercises listed in this post.
1. Plank Up-Downs
Beginning in a full (or modified) plank, check to make sure you have: shoulders over wrists, elbows soft, abs engaged, hips level with back (not too high or too low), and quads/glutes engaged (squeeze butt cheeks together and tighten muscles above the knees).
With control, place the right forearm down onto the mat, followed by the left. Make sure that the elbow bends, rather than moving the shoulder blade to lower your body down.
With both forearms down, do a quick body scan to make sure form is correct: shoulders over elbows, abs tight, hips level with shoulders, legs and glutes tight.
To come back up into a full (or modified) plank, place hand where the elbow was. Repeat on other side to finish.
Ta-da! Now you’re ready for more reps .
2. Three-limb Plank
While in a full (or modified with knees down) plank, widen stance so that feet are at least shoulder width apart. This will help keep hips relatively level and square towards the mat.
Once feet are spread out, tighten abs (coughing muscles engaged!) and extend one arm forward, as if shaking someone’s hand. It’s important to stay strong on the left shoulder, making sure that you don’t allow yourself to sink into the shoulder blade. Imagine as if you want to press up and away from your elbow, towards the ceiling.
Hold for desired amount of time (give it at least a good second or two) and switch sides.
3. Wall Plank
This is one of my favorite (and most challenging) plank variations, and I’m working on holding it a bit longer each time. With hands on the floor and feet right in front of the wall, carefully walk feet up against the wall.
You may start out higher than what looks – and feels – aligned, and that’s okay. Begin to adjust your stance, making sure to press the heels firmly into the wall. This will help engage transverse abdominis (deep abdominal muscles that sit lower towards the pelvis).
Inching my feet down so that they’re level with my shoulders…
Once your feet are level with your hips and shoulders, work hard to hold for the desired amount of time. Keep pressing those heels into the wall!
Plank for a Strong and Stable Core
Kudos if you are currently incorporating planks into your exercise routine! The plank exercise can help improve things such as spinal alignment and low back issues, as well as contribute to overall muscular strength. With the above variations from a basic plank, you can be sure to not only feel the burn, but improve the health and fitness of your body.
xo, Jessica Dang
Jess is an ACSM certified personal trainer, AFAA certified group exercise instructor, and Power Vinyasa yoga teacher. Through her personal training and blogging, she hopes to share her experiences with living a balanced lifestyle: a lifestyle that includes an emphasis on strength and core training, moving as much as we can for health, while also enjoying those moments of indulgence.