‘If you think time flies, you haven’t held a plank recently!’ – unknown
Before you dismiss this post as something that isn’t for you, read on!! Whatever your fitness level and however old you are, even if getting down on the floor isn’t an option for you, you can still plank!
OK so what’s so good about the plank? The plank is an exercise which strengthens your whole body, using almost every single muscle, but particularly the core which includes your abs and the muscles in your lower back. We need a strong core to perform all sorts of day to day tasks. It helps build stability, strength and endurance. Planks improve muscle mass and the strength of the skeletal system, increasing bone density. Our posture will benefit which in turn helps protect our body from strains and sprains as well as making us look better. Back, neck and shoulder pain is likely to reduce. Our balance is improved, as is our flexibility. Planks burn more calories than you might expect too. They can even help our ability to concentrate and breathe properly as well as improve our mood! An impressive list of benefits right?!
You don’t even need any equipment to do a plank (except the floor or a handy wall) and they take two minutes or less so can be easily fitted into the day. You won’t get too hot and sweaty so no need for a shower after and you can wear any clothing. Sounds good?! Seriously, what’s not to love?!
There can’t be many exercises that have all those benefits and, in theory, the plank sounds like a pretty simple exercise. BUT if you’ve never done it, let me tell you, it’s not as easy as it first appears and the quote at the top of the post is very true! Unbelievably, the current world record (set on 06/08/21) for planking is held by Daniel Scali from Australia who held the position for 9 hours, 30 minutes and 1 second!!!
I first started planking about 15 years ago at a Pilates class. I was quite good at it at the time even if I do say so myself! Fast forward to now though and its HARD! I attempted it recently and could only manage 15 seconds of a forearm floor plank. A couple of weeks of doing them daily and I had achieved 30 seconds but that seemed to be as far as I was going to get and I stopped. But having learnt all the benefits (and the easier options) I’m going to try again and stick with it this time!
All the instructions below are taken from qualified exercise professionals and I would recommend checking verified sites for more detailed descriptions, particularly if you haven’t tried planking before or you’re ready to progress to the harder versions.
The standing plank – stand with feet hip width apart facing a wall. Lean forward so that your forearms are flat against the wall and your body is in a straight line. You may need to shift your feet a little to get in position. Stay strong through your shoulders and don’t round your back or sag in the middle. Draw your shoulders down and look at the wall roughly in line with where your watch would be to keep your head in line with your body. Aim to hold the position for 2 minutes but if you feel any stress in the back or discomfort in the shoulders, stop and continue after a short break. Variations of the wall plank include shifting your body weight onto each foot alternately or lifting one arm or leg at a time.
Knees down plank – for this one, start on your stomach, then bring yourself up onto your elbows keeping your knees on the ground. Elbows should be directly under your shoulders and your hands facing forwards. Maintain a straight line from ears to knees, hold your stomach in and look at the floor.
Full plank (straight arms) – place your hands directly under your shoulders and spread your fingers wide. Feet hip width apart. Keep your torso straight and rigid and your body in a straight line from ears to toes with no sagging in the middle. Look at the floor but keep your head relaxed.
Full plank (forearms) – make sure your shoulders are over your elbows for this one but otherwise it is the same as the straight arm plank.
From here there are plenty of variations including the reverse plank where you start by laying on your back with hands behind hips and lifting your body up until it forms a straight line; arm and leg lifts; rocking side to side or backwards and forwards; side planks and side planks with a crunch. You can also use resistance bands and stability balls to increase the intensity and the benefits.
Remember though that whichever level you are doing, you must pull in your belly button to achieve maximum benefits and avoid hurting your back. Always breathe slowly and steadily. As with any exercise, if something hurts or feels uncomfortable, stop. You can always drop down a level or two until your strength improves and it feels more comfortable. Time seems to go very slowly when you do a plank so I’m going to put a magazine on the floor to see if that helps distract me and allow me to hold the pose just that little bit longer! Wish me luck!
So no prizes for guessing the tiny tweak! If you’ve never tried a plank before, why not give it a go? If you have, can you step it up a gear? Let me know how you get on! Have you tried a plank before? What do you think of them as an exercise? I love hearing your comments so please do let me know!
Until next time xx