What would you say if I told you that I could show you one exercise that is guaranteed to both improve performance in the gym and quality of life outside the gym?
You’d probably find a way to work it into your routine, wouldn’t you?
A plank is arguably the most useful exercise that exists. Its foundations carry over to many functional fitness exercises, and also improve things like posture and overall strength.
The plank is intended to strengthen your core muscles like your abs and obliques in the front as well as your erector spinae muscles in the back.
What are the benefits of the plank?
The benefits of the plank are many. Here are just a few of the rewards you’ll reap from this exercise:
A stronger core
The plank improves posture by strengthening your core muscles that support your spine and help you stand or sit tall throughout the day.
Many movements done inside and outside the gym benefit from a stronger core like squats, pull-ups, picking up heavy boxes, or walking.
No equipment necessary
Another benefit of the plank is that it can be done nearly anywhere.
While some variations use equipment, your basic, side, or elbow plank can be done at home, in the gym, or at the airport. Anywhere you can find enough space to be horizontal instead of vertical, you can do a plank.
Available for all levels of fitness
Planks are a great addition to training because they are so scalable.
If you’re a beginner, we can start a plank from the knee, or elevate your hands.
If you’re advanced, you can start playing with less stable objects like rings, focus on length of time holding a plank, or adding weight.
With planks, there is something for everyone.
What does a proper plank look like?
Let’s talk about the basic patterns of a plank. Pictured below is a push-up plank.
We want to create a long, flat body in the plank position. The goal here is to avoid any sagging around our waist. By holding this position we are causing these muscles to stay tight and resist gravity pushing down.
Look at the ground between your hands and think about a pole stretching from your heels to the crown of your head. You want everything to be in one long line.
There are many options for beginners and advanced athletes when working with the plank. But your basic, bodyweight plank has many variations on it’s own Variations of the plank include:
Side plank: Focuses more intensely on your obliques
Forearm Plank: takes some pressure off your shoulders and focuses more on your core
See-saw (not pictured): slow controlled movements back and forth increase the intensity of the plank
Tabletop: reversing the plank adds a chest and hip stretch while balancing out the plank
Knees (beginner): Instead of supporting yourself on your toes, support yourself on your knees. The straight line should go from knee to crown of head.
Elevate hands (beginner): Place your hands on a chair or table at a height that challenges you but allows you to maintain good posture and a straight line.
Weighted (advanced): Have a buddy place a weight on your back (or do it yourself if you’re nimble!) before pressing up into a plank.
Rings (advanced): adds an element of instability to strengthen the shoulder muscles. Rings should be approximately shoulder width apart or slightly wider. Focus on pushing down into the rings and keeping a tight midline to avoid the rings getting away from you!
A great plank workout
To get started, try incorporating a version of the plank mentioned above in the form of a Tabata workout (20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest for 4 minutes, or repeated 8 times).
Give it a try and see if you don’t feel your core getting stronger!