Planks: Mistakes and Benefits!
There's More To Doing Them Than You Think
Planks: You either love them or hate them. It’s a pretty basic exercise requiring no additional equipment, but it’s also one of the most complicated isometric exercises if performed correctly. You have to engage your muscles statically as you hold a horizontal pushup position while resting on the forearms. Your elbows will be on the floor directly below the shoulders with the feet about hip-width apart. The following is a correct plank position:
Notice everything is lined up nicely in a horizontal fashion, with knees and hips locked, glutes will be tight and the head is pointing straight forward. The core should now also be engaged so that the muscles work hard at keeping this position for time.
By planking correctly, the stabilization neural recruitment pattern can carry over to other daily movements and exercises. This will make the exercise much more functional for maintaining neutral spine during daily activities! For example, a basic push up is a moving plank. The push up just recruits a few more major muscle groups from the upper extremity, like the pecs, the anterior deltoids, and the triceps. (Illinois Bone & Joint Institute)
Raising the Hips
Where this exercise falls flat is holding the correct position. The reason the exercise is called a plank is because you want to hold your body in a straight position, like a wooden plank.
Notice how straight the piece of wood is. Here’s the problem. Either through muscular weakness, sloppy form or tiredness, some will elevate their butt, like the picture below. This now resembles one of those planks at the lumber yard that’s been left in the sun too long:
This compensation puts excess stress on shoulders by over-utilizing the traps and neck, without engaging hips and glutes, which inhibits abdominal and core activation. You can fix this by lowering your hips and engaging your glutes, focusing on squeezing your core muscles.
That means you keep your head in alignment with the rest of your body, in a neutral position, while the back is flat. So bring your elbows towards the floor and squeeze your quads, glutes and core, while inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth, without holding your breath.
If possible, use a mirror lain sideways alongside your body and correct your form if necessary. You know the position is straight and tight if you imagine someone putting a cup of coffee on your back during the exercise and you don’t allow it to spill.
Lowering the Hips
You also don’t want to let your hips fall. When your abdominal and arm muscles start to fatigue, it’s likely your hips will begin to sink. (Gravity, ladies and gentlemen!) The downside to letting it all hang down: Your core muscles will be less challenged in this position, and you’ll be putting strain on your lower back. Not the goal here. (DailyBurn.com)
How Long Should you hold Your Plank?
Many people place a premium on how long they can hold a plank and there is something to be said for that. If you're looking to break a record, the longest time in an abdominal plank position is 9 hr 30 min 01 sec, and was achieved by Daniel Scali, on 6 August 2021. This is a man affected by CRPS (complex regional pain syndrome). He decided to attempt this record to prove that "no matter what condition you have or challenge you face, you can overcome them and achieve your goals".
Here’s a video of a measly 8:15:15 plank:
I’m pretty sure you’ll agree with specialists that a shorter time will do the trick. Progressively you can increase the time you hold the plank, but there’s not much point to pursuing this record as experts point out that you do not get much more benefits after a certain time.
Strength coach and Men’s Health contributor Dan John has a firm answer: two minutes. He says in his book, Can You Go? If you can’t hold a plank for 120 seconds, you’re either a) too fat; b) too weak; or c) doing something wrong in your workouts. A fit, healthy guy should be able to do a two-minute plank.
John is also clear about the value of going beyond two minutes: There is none. “Enough is enough,” he says. “It’s just a plank. More is not better.” (MensHealth.com)
And really, at about two minutes, it’s probably longer than any plank most do in their life. And if you’re trying it for a one off experience, a 2-3 minute plank may leave you less hungry and perhaps more bitter towards it.
To maximize the move’s payoff, you have to get things moving. Once the plank can be successfully mastered, it is important to work towards stabilizing while moving in different planes of motion in everyday life.
That means our spine is meant to be used in more than the neutral position, such as spinal extension, spinal flexion,
Here’s a good visual demonstration on the exercise. Don’t be put off by some of the harder demonstrations, as there is a natural progression to all of this:
Planks are hard, that’s a given. For some, they are considered so unforgiving that if they were given one minute to live, they could start planking as it seems like a lifetime. All jokes aside, give these a try and see how your abs and lower back improve with a daily dose of planks.