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Home > Exercises > Plank Exercise

Plank Exercise

Setup

  1. Lie on the floor face-down, feet together
  2. Prop your torso up on your elbows with your elbows positioned directly underneath your shoulders, or slightly in front of your shoulders
  3. Clasp your hands together (hands and forearms forming a chevron beneath your chest)
  4. Tuck your toes under, the same way you would if you were about to do a pushup
  5. Brace your arms and shoulders for the load

plank exercise setup

Execution

  1. Locking your knees, extend your hips (imagine trying to drive your toes into the ground).  You should now be hovering over the ground with your body weight spread between your forearms and your toes.
  2. Relax your chest and allow your shoulders to slide back into a locked position (obviously your torso will lower and inch or two as you do this)
  3. Your body should now be in a straight line, horizontal to the ground.
  4. Hold this plank exercise position for as long as you comfortably can (typically 15-60 seconds for an untrained body).  Repeat the plank exercise once or twice.  Perform the plank exercise daily or every other day, depending on desired intensity.

plank exercise execution

Tips and Variations

  1. For beginners, in order to make the plank exercise easier, instead of holding your body in a straight line, allow your pelvis to rise 6-12 inches above the rest of your body such that your body’s profile forms an inverted V shape when doing the plank exercise.
  2. For advanced plank exercise practitioners, try using only one foot, stacking the unplanted foot on top of the planted one.  Alternate between reps.
  3. Do the plank exercise on carpet or a yoga mat to preserve your elbows.

Background

Okay, the exercises section of the site is a bit sparse, I noticed, so I am going to try to beef it up.  The truth is, it’s my personal belief that as between stretching, exercises, and self-massage, therapeutic exercise is the most effective way of overcoming musculoskeletal dysfunction.  God I feel guilty just writing that; I really need to focus on publishing more exercises.

external obliquesHere’s the skinny on the plank exercise.  At the risk of gross oversimplification, most people’s “bad back” can be put into one of two categories: (1) extension starved or (2) flexion starved.  For the newbs: back extension is the motion of straightening your back (like standing straight up) and back flexion is the motion curling up your back (like doing crunches).  In other words, most people’s back problems are as simple as they need to either strengthen the muscles in the “anterior chain” (i.e., muscles on the front of the body) including muscles that flex their back back (viz., rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis, external obliques (together, the “abs”), illiacus, psoas, tensor fasciae latae, rectus femoris (together, the “hip flexors”), quadriceps, tibialis anterior (shin)) or they need to strengthen the posterior chain (i.e., muscles on the back of the body) including the muscles that extend their back (viz., erector spinae (back), gluteus maximus (butt), hamstrings, calves).

The plank exercise strengthens almost every muscle in your “anterior kinetic chain.”  In other words, the plank exercise is highly therapeutic/beneficial for the people with back problems who are flexion starved.  Now, in my opinion, this half of the back problem population is in the minority meaning I think more people with back problems stand to benefit from doing posterior chain exercises.  Stop.  Question.  How the hell do you tell which camp you’re in, whether you’re in the extension starved camp or the flexion starved camp?  Easy.  Reflect for a minute on what makes your back hurt.  For example, sitting on the floor Indian style for half an hour would kill my back.  My back is thus extension starved.  It hates flexion.  It hates sitting.  It loves extension.  It loves standing.  It loves back extension exercises.  It hates, for example, doing crunches.

Now, let’s say for argument’s sake that you don’t know which camp you’re in.  Well, doing the plank exercise can’t hurt you.  Why?  Because although the plank exercise technically strengthens the anterior muscle chain, it does not put your back through the flexion range of motion.  The plank exercise is what’s called an isometric exercise.  This is just a fancy term for exercises that don’t involve motion.  So, for example, when you flex your bicep to show off your muscle tone, you are doing an isometric exercise.  Your arm isn’t moving but your muscle is working.  That’s perhaps a bad analogy to the plank exercise because the plank exercise is isometric because your body is fighting gravity but “muscle flexing” is isometric because your biceps are fighting your triceps.  But I digress.

transversus abdominusThe plank exercise came to the fore in the 1990s as an alternative to the crunch.  As a therapeutic exercise for back or hip dysfunction, the plank exercise ranks highly.  The plank exercise requires very strong contraction of the transversus abdominis and the external obliques, unlike the crunch or the situp.  The plank exercise is, in fact, probably the best transversus abdominis exercise one can do, the other exercises vying for the top spot in this regard being a standing transversus abdominis isolation exercise, supine “flutter kicks,” and “wood choppers.”  The plank exercise also requires very strong contraction of the hip flexors (the psoas, the tensor fascia latae, the rectus femoris).  Because the transversus abdominis is such an important muscle and because many people suffer from posterior pelvic tilt caused or exacerbated by weak hip flexors, I can say without hesitation that I would recommend everybody incorporate the plank exercise into their exercise regimen.

To sum up, the reason you’re doing the plank exercise is because the plank exercise is good for your lower back, pelvis, and hips and is probably the single most effective exercise at slimming your waistline because of its reliance on strong transversus abdominis and external obliques contractions. 

Further Reading: Related Floota.com Articles

  1. Transversus Abdominis Exercise
  2. Abdominal Muscle Dysfunction Test

References

  1. Plank Progressions for Killer Abs by Nick Tumminello, Strength Coach
  2. Abdominal plank position world record broken by Gold Coast's Paul Drinan @ The Courier Mail

Last Updated: 5/29/2011
Originally Posted: 5/29/2011