Planks: Good, bad or both?
If you’re looking for six-pack-abs, you might have taken a closer look at planks. Planks can be viewed as either the new stomach crunch, or the old push-up. If you’re considering jumping on the plank bandwagon, we break it down for you.
One of the recent trends in the fitness world (and in social media) is the plank challenge. The idea is basically that you hold a plank position (elbows and toes on the ground, back straight, pelvis tucked, head down) for increasing amounts of time. Five minutes is the pinnacle of success although some people hold a plank for longer than that. When holding a plank for more than two minutes, you aren’t giving the body time to recover from the stress and strain it puts on your body. Exercise breaks sown muscle, and it is the rest and recovery that allow the muscles to heal and increase in size.
If a person is struggling to hold the plank position, and begins to sag, the pressure shifts from the abs to the ribs and shoulders. At this point it is no longer an effective exercise and can actually cause an injury. Just as calories are not created equal (there are good ones and bad ones), neither are planks. A plank is not just a plank.
A full plank should have the tailbone tucked under navel and all core muscles firing. This includes the rectus abdominals, internal and external obliques, serratus anterior, TVA, deltoids and pecs as well as the hip flexor groups and muscles of the front of thighs are engaged. This is why a plank can be effective as strength training.
People who are not fit may be able to hold a plank for 20-30 seconds at most. That’s OK. It’s not an aerobic exercise for your heart and lungs. It is instead working your muscle tone.
A proper non-sagging plank of
one minute can be good for:
- Core definition and performance when all the core muscles are engaged
- Decrease your risk of injury in the back and spinal column when a strong core takes pressure off your spine or hips
- An increase in overall metabolism when you burn calories planking
- Improved posture due to a stronger core
- Improved overall balance due to stronger abdominals
Rather than holding an elbow plank or wrist plank (the beginning push up position) try modifying the plank to force the core muscles to stabilize. Here are some great ways to modify the plank to reduce risk of injury.
- Leg raise – from a plank position, raise one leg for 30 seconds, and then the opposite leg also for 30 seconds.
- Twist plank – from a toe/hand plank position, move one foot towards the hand/shoulder location on the opposite side. Alternate your feet as though you are beginning to march.
- Shoulder taps – raise one hand and tap the opposite shoulder, then repeat with the opposite hand. Try to remain stable rather than shifting your weight from side to side.
- One arm plank – this is a plank with all of your weight on one hand/wrist and one foot, while facing sideways. Switch sides after holding for one minute or less.
With any plank, or static position exercise, it is important to breathe deeply. When you hold your breath the lungs lift, the ribs flair and that pressure on the intercostal muscles is hugely increased.
The answer to whether or not you should take a plank challenge – is no. If you truly want to get the best bang for the muscle-building-buck, turn your plank into a pushup.