Planks also strengthen engagement in your upper back, glutes, shoulders, arms, and hamstring, making them "a game-changer for those building functional strength.” So obviously, if you’re looking to get stronger in your plank position so that you’re able to hold it for longer (or you're a beginner looking to perfect your planks), ahead Ligler and other well-respected trainers share their top tips. But before we get to that, here's the right way to hold a plank once and for all:
1. Go long
According to Ligler, the traditional plank—with arms fully extended with bodyweight propped up on hands and toes—is the best version of the plank if you are looking to build time, as dropping down to your elbows is far more challenging on your core due to the angle of your bodyweight (um hi, who would’ve thought?). To hold your plank for as long as possible, Ligler says to "engage the quads and glutes, rotate those elbow creases forward to strengthen your posture, and finally find a rhythm to your breathing.”
2. Perfect your form
“I see this exercise performed wrong quite often,” says Poulin Health & Wellness founder Nicholas Poulin. “Many people think the core as a whole is your abdominal muscles, but you have so many others that need to focus on to make a great plank—and a long one at that.” According to Poulin, major core muscles in a plank include the pelvic floor muscles, transversus abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae (especially the longissimus thoracis), and the diaphragm—which might explain why you feel your whole body shaking during a plank.
While that might seem like a nice lesson in Anatomy and Physiology, making note of these muscles and understanding how they play a role in your plank can really help perfect your form. “In every exercise, you should start from the floor up, meaning your feet shoulder-width apart, legs contracted, and hips lifted into a neutral position not elevated,” Poulin explains. “Keep your core tight and engaged throughout the entire plank, arms or elbows shoulder-width apart, and keep your spine in a neutral position.” To top it off, he says to avoid straining your neck (a common mistake in classic planks). Instead, aim your chin about six inches in front of your body and look ahead. “I'll take good form and less time than lousy form and more time,” he notes. “Be consistent, and you will get better.”
3. Be hyper-aware of your ribcage
While the core muscles are the first thing to come to mind when thinking of plank sequences, NASM certified personal trainer Andrea Dusel-Foil says to not forget about your ribcage. “If the ribs start to splay and sink, it is much more challenging to keep the core engaged and the arms will take all of the work,” she explains. “To keep the ribs closed, imagine you have shoelaces that lace from the top of your ribs down to the bottom, then feel those laces being pulled tight so that the ribs can knit together.”
4. Don’t be afraid of variations
If holding a traditional plank is super challenging for your body, don’t stress. Ligler says that if you struggle with classic planks or have wrist sensitivities, there are several plank variations you can that help build strength and add variety to your core routine. First, there’s the knee plank. Here, all you have to do is get onto all fours and lower your hips down to create a long line between your shoulders, hips, and knees (as opposed to toes). There’s also the elbow plank. “This is a traditional plank, only on your elbows instead of your hands,” Ligler explains.
And then, we have plank to pike. While this exercise might seem much more challenging, it actually helps to give your joints a bit of a break while piking so that you don’t feel stagnant and sore in one position. According to Ligler, the plank-to-pike movement “requires enhanced core and upper body engagement in order to dynamically slide the hips toward the ceiling while maintaining upper back and straight leg position.”
5. Press away from the floor
When in a plank position it might feel like your arms and feet are there to hold you up. In reality, they’re there to support you but you need to actively press up away from the floor to reap the rewards of planks. “As we fatigue, we start to sink into the joints and towards the floor,” Dusel-Foil says. “Whether you are on your hands or forearms, you want to think about actively pressing the floor away from you. This will also keep your serratus anterior more engaged, which will help to keep the shoulder blades from winging off the back.”
6. Make small adjustments
At the end of the day, Gold’s Gym certified trainer Jackie Vick says two seemingly-small tweaks will make a world of difference for your planks. First, focus on not looking down at your toes while planking. “Keep your head up and look down at the ground,” she instructs, noting that it will lead to better alignment overall. Second, don’t forget to breathe through it. “Sometimes when we concentrate, we hold our breath, which will actually make everything harder,” Dusel-Foil explains. “You want to keep oxygen flowing into all of the muscles that are working so hard for you. In order to breathe while also keeping the core engaged (really pull that belly button towards your spine), think of breathing into the back and sides of the ribcage (like an accordion).” Now put it all together, and burpee! (Seriously, so sorry to end on this note).
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