Everybody knows about planks and planking, so today I wanted to take it right back to basics and discuss one of the simplest exercises in a bit more detail. The most common response when asked “what do planks work?” is simply “the core”. YES! They are brilliant for your core, but also so so much more! The plank is a whole body exercise and recruits many other muscle groups simultaneously, making it a proper compound exercise.
The core is worked extensively in the plank, no question about it! Because these muscles are stabilising your trunk to stay up, stay rigid, and stay strong! A weak core would simply allow you to crumble in the middle and provide less support to the spine. The core is worked from all dimensions with the plank, giving a 3D approach to your muscle workout! Because there is so little contact with the ground all the surrounding muscles from the front, back, and sides must be recruited. Changing the position of your plank can emphasise different areas more, for example a front plank focuses primarily on the rectus abdominius and transverses abdominus, whilst a side plank will stress the obliques more. So once we have the core engaged and working well we can think about the extremities……
The upper body and lower body
The body is suspended in between the arms and legs holding you up, so of course they are working too! If the shoulders are held correctly down away from the ears, and slightly back, it provides stability to the shoulder blade region and demands upper body strength to hold your body weight in position. This is even more challenging in the side plank, where you place the weight on to just one arm! Keeping the legs strong and extended activates the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteal muscle groups to provide the lower body support. If you hold them active you will feel the muscle fatigue creep in as the lactic acid builds!
So why plank?
The plank combines upper body, lower body, and core strength all in one simple exercise. It encourages all the muscle groups to work together to build a strong foundation to support your body. No equipment is required and they can be varied in so many ways that they never get easy, never get boring, and never stop pushing you further!
How to vary your plank workouts:
1. Front planks– Either on your elbows or up on the hands. Whichever option, ensure the shoulder blades are drawn back towards each other and shoulders are melted away from your ears.
2. Side planks– Again either on your elbows or hands. This really demands a strong upper limb side! Keep lifting up underneath the lower abdominals/waist side to engage the obliques and stay stable and strong!
3. Arm and leg raises- This can be done with front and side planks. Once in position, raise one arm out in front of you. Then try raising one leg up behind you. Try for 10 raises of an arm, then 10 raises with a leg!
4. Plus Press ups- Hold your plank for 10 seconds, then add 3-5 press ups in the middle, then return to planking for 10 seconds. Continue for as long as you can!
5. Combo- Start with a front plank, rotate to one side and perform a side plank, return to the front, rotate to the opposite side. Continue planking front, side, front, side… you determine how long you want to pause at each position for!
Leg raises from No. 3. Plank on your elbows if necessary.