There is a lot of buzz about lately for strengthening our “core”. The core is constructed of many muscles, including the Rectus Abdominus (abs), Obliques, Erector Spinae, Transverse Abdominis (TVAs) to name but a few. A strong core leads to good posture, balance and stability, as well as stabilising the spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle. Strengthening your core can help to prevent and cure back pain, improve a weak pelvic floor, improve athletic performance, as well as the way our body performs in every day life.
A plank is a fantastic exercise for strengthening the core, and can be performed easily at home as well as in the gym, as it requires no equipment to complete.
So how do we perform this exercise? The clue is in the name- your body should resemble a plank of wood – straight and strong. Begin the exercise as if you were thinking of doing a press up; resting on your forearms with your elbows directly below your shoulders and your palms face down flat on the floor, fingers spread wide to create good stability. Lift your body up off the floor supporting your weight on your forearms and your toes, heels pushing away from you to create strong legs. Your spine should be aligned, not arched or with your stomach dropping down, your head should face the floor, but not drop down, your butt should not be raised in the air, but squeezed tight and kept in line with your body. Ensure your shoulders are not hunched up by your ears, but relaxed and pulled down your back. The most important point when performing any core exercise is to “engage your stomach muscles”- visualize your belly button contracting in towards your spine and like a zip pulling up within your tummy – contracting your stomach muscles in tight and flattening your tummy. Performing this exercise without contracting these muscles will not teach your muscles to become strong and flat, and could actually lead to your tummy pooching out more!
When performing this exercise for the first time, it should feel pretty intense – if it doesn’t then you are either incredibly strong already, or your positioning may be out- try lowering your hips a little. If you feel pressure in your lower back, then try “tucking your tail bone under” to eliminate the arch (lordotic curve) in your lower back.
Try holding the position for 20-30 seconds, and gradually build up the time to 60 seconds as you get stronger at performing it. Repeat 2-3 times. Once you can reach 60 seconds it is time to progress.
Plank with leg lift:
Begin in the plank position then lift one foot around 5-8 inches off the floor without letting your hip drop or rotate down to the floor, and keeping the body strong. Hold for 10 seconds before repeating on the other side.
Plank with arm lift:
Begin in the plank position then lift one arm from the floor, again not letting your body fall to one side.
Begin in the plank position then raise up onto on hand, then the other, so you are now up on both hands, arms straight. Lower one side back down onto your forearm, then the other side, back into the starting position. Repeat as many reps as possible.
Plank on Exercise Ball:
Perform your plank with your forearms on an exercise ball – this will really challenge your stability. Once you have mastered this, try “writing” your name with the exercise ball by pushing the ball around with your elbows while performing the plank.