Is there a place for planks?
Whenever you go to the gym there is always at least one person performing this exercise. The question is do people know why they do them and are they getting the most out of this motionless hold. Whether you’re trying to smash a personal best in a big lift or simply want to improve your abdominal region then planks can help if performed correctly. Total body tension is required when performing a plank, contracting from areas (shoulders, abs, glutes, lower back, and quadriceps to ensure a solid foundation throughout the body and therefore able to withstand any external forces.
Plank for a bigger lift?
Try using a front plank within an active warm-up before any heavy lifts for example deadlifts and squats. This can help with core activation which can translate into improved performance within these two lifts. I would recommend doing your normal warm up whether that be cardio, foam rolling etc. Then incorporate 3 sets of 10s BW max effort holds in-between warm up sets concentrating on deep forceful inhalation and exhalation.
Plank as an accessory movement?
Take the push-up for example; this movement pretty much replicates a moving plank. A pitfall that some people have when performing a push up is a lack of lumbar stability (often a low back arch), or even an upper back rounding. A plank can help you learn the correct positioning to amend these issues, which will then hopefully allow you to feel the push-up where you should i.e. pectorals.
I’m not going to reel off a big list of plank variations as there are too many to waffle on about, from the side plank to the one legged plank. One way you can increase the difficulty is by adding weight as seen in the picture below. Once you are comfortable at holding a body weight plank for at least a minute then try adding in this progression. If you would like to see more plank variations then check out Bodybuilding.com article.
The right and wrong way to plank
Let’s take a look at the set up for an effective plank position. Firstly, lie down on your stomach supporting your upper body with your elbows. Squeeze and pull your shoulders tight towards your ribs whilst contracting your glutes, straightening your knees as hard as possible. Then bring yourself up to a position where you have balanced tension throughout your body maintaining a neutral spine. If you wish to see a video demonstration of how to perform a solid plank then Scott Herman shows a perfect example.
Generally, a poor plank position stems from poor spinal positioning through the movement. Common mistakes and tell tale signs are when an individual excessively rounds his/her back or sticks the buttocks high in the air. If the upper back is rounded then the main focus of the movement is going to be shifted away from the abdominals onto the shoulders/neck region. A similar result will occur by sticking your buttocks excessively high in the air where the focus is once again shifted from the target area towards the lumbar, erector spinae, hip flexor region.