Types of Planks
Planks have risen in popularity as one of the best core exercises, and for good reason, too; they hit all major abdominal muscles while also working the rest of your body, targeting the muscles of your back, chest, shoulders, glutes and quads. Whether you are a beginner or fitness expert, planks are a great exercise because they can be easily modified based on your fitness level and abilities. Incorporating dynamic movements and variations to the traditional plank challenges the core in different ways, which will strengthen it even more. This translates not only into increases in strength, but also increases in endurance, improved body composition, and many other health benefits.
How to do a traditional plank in three steps:
- Start by laying stomach-down on the ground and press your chest up until your shoulders are directly over your elbows.
- Your body should be in a straight line from your head to your heels.
- Engage your core to maintain this position.
Three plank modifications:
1) Plank for people who use a wheelchair
If you use a wheelchair, you can still perform a plank with a few adaptations. Transfer onto a low bench, table or platform. Your toes, knees or hips can be supported by the bench depending on your level of function. This is called the pivot point. Your body should form a straight line from your head to the pivot point. Your shoulders should be directly over your elbows.
2) Plank for beginners
If you are new to exercise, there are many modifications that will allow you to build up to achieving the traditional plank. Rather than placing your hands on the floor, you can hold on to a variety of objects, such as the bar from a Smith machine or squat rack, a bench, or a platform. The further away your upper body is from the ground, the easier the exercise. Your elbows and shoulders should be in a line with each other. Make sure you engage your core to keep your hips and shoulders from dipping.
3) Side plank
If you feel you have mastered the traditional plank and are ready for an advanced position, try the side plank. Start in the traditional plank position. Lift your right arm up and rotate onto the outside edge of your left foot or pivot point. Your left arm is still in contact with the ground and under your shoulder. Stack your feet and legs and push your hips up to keep the straight line from your head to your heels. If you can, extend your right arm up towards the ceiling.
Three benefits of planks
1) Planks support proper posture
Many people, especially those who regularly use a wheelchair or walker, tend to have imbalances between the anterior and posterior muscle groups of their upper body. Planks work to counteract this by engaging both abdominals and back muscles at the same time, leading to a more balanced core. This helps you sit up or stand up straight for long periods of time and prevents slouching.
2) Planks increase your flexibility
Along with increases in strength, planks also improve flexibility, especially in the posterior muscle groups. When in proper plank position, you should feel as if you are spreading the area between your shoulder blades, preventing your shoulders from sinking down. This works to expand and stretch shoulder and back muscles that are often neglected. Also, try to push your heels back and straighten your knees during plank, which can help increase flexibility through the hips.
3) Planks improve your balance
Planks are an isometric exercise, meaning you hold a pose against gravity for a period of time. To maintain an upright plank position, you activate a variety of stabilizing muscles, which can lead to improvements in balance. Progressing to advanced plank variations will challenge your balance even more and eventually produce further improvements.
Three plank variations
1) Plank with shoulder taps
Start in the traditional plank position. Raise your right hand to tap your left shoulder, then your left hand to tap your right shoulder. Continue to alternate. Keep your hips square to the floor and try not to let them sway from side to side. This variation can be done from modified plank positions.
2) Plank jacks
Start in the traditional plank position with your feet about hip distance apart. Hop your feet out wider than hip width, then hop your feet back to their starting position. Try not to let your bottom rise above the height of your shoulders. This variation affects both strength and cardiovascular endurance.
3) Plank up-downs
Start in the traditional plank position. Bend your right elbow and drop your right arm down to where the forearm and elbow are resting against the ground. Do the same with the left arm. You should be in a low plank position. Push the right arm back into the traditional plank position, then the left arm, returning to the traditional plank position. Continue to alternate.