Ask someone what one of the best core exercises are and you might get “sit-ups” as a response, and I may just roll my eyes at that response because it’s not even close to the most beneficial when looking at what the core is meant to do.

The core is meant to resist movement; therefore one of the most beneficial exercises you can add to your program is the plank.  Now I know you may look at a plank and see a boring isometric hold, but if you take some of the steps outlined in this article, it’ll take your plank from yawn to WOW!

Before we get to the fun part of stepping up your plank game, it’s essential that you are already performing a basic plank correctly.  If you’re like most people, you’ll fall into one of two categories, either the excessive lumbar extension crowd or the excessive hip hike crowd.  Both of these are big NO’s when it comes to the plank.

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basic plank exercise_1

So what does great plank form entail?

For starters, the spine is in neutral, meaning that your back is a straight line from your head to your butt.  This is the number one thing to look for when analyzing a good vs. bad plank.  If you can lay a rod on your back, it should be in a straight line.

Next, make sure the elbows are directly under the shoulders with the hands and feet shoulder width apart (at least for beginners).  This will give you a solid base of support with the upper body.  Often times I’ll see the hands clasped together or the shoulders will shrug.  That can lead to excessive pressure on the shoulders and neck. That’s something we don’t want.

Lastly, you want to look at the hips for how the pelvis is positioned.  We want our hips to be in more of a posterior pelvic tilt as opposed to an anterior tilt.

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How to Make it Harder

– There are many ways to take a plank and make it more challenging:

– You can add movement

– You can change the base of support (feet narrow or wider)

– You can change the length of your body (extending the arms out)

– You can alter ground contact (3 point planks & 2 point planks)

– For the context of this article, we’re going to focus on 3 things that we can do to a basic forearm plank that will make take it to the next level.

– Burst Planks

– Weighted Planks

– Physio-ball Planks

RKC Burst Planks

RKC Burst Planks are a great way to build up the strength and endurance in your core, especially if you are just beginning a training program.  What happens when you do planks for lengths of time is that you lose muscle engagement at some point and you start to lose the benefit.  With these Burst Planks, essentially you look at a plank much like you would interval training.

Hold a plank for a short amount of time, 10 seconds is a favorite of mine, and make sure you are engaging every muscle at once.  This may look like a standard plank, but two simple cues will drive it towards being a way more intense version of a plank.

Once you are up in your basic plank position outlined above, you are going to drive your elbows and toes towards each other, without actually moving them.  What this will do is create full body tension from your shoulders and lats, all the way through your abdomen, into your glutes, quads, and hamstrings, ending at your feet.

Now all of the sudden your “yawn” plank goes to a “holy cow” full body engagement plank.  Once you are up, you’ll realize that 10 seconds is more than enough time to engage those abs.   Aim for getting 6 sets of 10 seconds with 10 seconds of rest in between.

Weighted Plank

To progress these short Burst planks, you can add time to the plank, you can shorten the rest period, or you can proceed to the next step in taking your planks to the level by adding weight.

Your set-up is the same as the burst planks, however once you are up and settled into position, have a partner add external resistance either manually or by putting a weight plate on your back.

Ideally you want to place the weight on the small of your back, centering it over your sacrum. If you place the weight too high on your back, for example over you cervical spine between your shoulder blades, the leverages of your body take over and the weight of object is being supported by your arms and shoulders. However, with a lower placement you have to continuously engage your core to support the weight.

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Physio-Ball Planks

The last progression that will take your plank to the next level requires adding a physio-ball or swiss ball.  The set-up is the same as the other planks in this series; however your forearms will be lined up on a ball instead of the floor.  What this does is add a little bit of instability to what is normally a stable position.

After you have mastered the plank, you can step up the intensity by switching the Physio-ball under your feet instead of under your forearms.  By placing your forearms flat on the floor you’ll put your body in a slight decline, so be sure to monitor you form and keep that straight line of tension.

This will increase the instability you will feel as your core is now placed further from the point of balance.

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Takeaway

If you feel your plank is lacking in intensity, take a look at your form first and foremost.  It could be that you’re not in correct positioning.  If your basic planks are on point, then try one of the progressions mentioned above.

Planks don’t have to be boring and go on for long amounts of time.  The standard that is often recommended is 2 minutes.  I’d wager that these short progressions can be just as effective.  I mean who wants to plank for 4 hours and 26 minutes?  I know I’d lose focus quickly.

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