The Plank is one of those staple isometric core exercises that everyone includes in their program at one time or another because it's easy to perform and applies to all skill levels. It is a useful anti-extension exercise, meant to improve core stability; yet at a certain point it becomes less of a challenge, and we need to add Plank variations to produce change.
As with any exercise, there needs to be a level of progression so that the exercise doesn't become stale and you no longer receive the benefits you once got. It's one thing to add duration to the Plank to make it more challenging, but it's an entirely different challenge to add resistance, increase levers, change the base of support or add movement. Altering little things can have a huge impact in the long run.
To progress to harder Plank variations, it's vital to have solid mechanics during a simple Plank. From head to toe, the elbows should be under the shoulders, spine neutral, hips tucked under in a posterior tilt, legs straight and feet slightly wider than hips.
In this position, you want to create full body tension, especially through the core, glutes and legs. Once you've accomplished this task with ease, it's time to add variations.
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Establish a Longer Lever
In a typical Plank, the elbows or hands are placed directly under the shoulders. This creates a strong, stable base. What would happen if you alter that base by moving the elbows or hands in front of the shoulders? For one, the tension you would have to create throughout your core would have to increase to prevent your body from crumbling.
- Set yourself in a Plank.
- Once engaged, move your elbows or hands up past your shoulders.
- Move your arms or hands to a point where you can't hold the position.
- Hold for 10-20 seconds.
Change the Base of Support
The standard Plank involves maintaining four points of contact with the ground. This produces a stable base of support, which makes the exercise easy. Changing the base of support by lifting an arm, leg or both creates an "anti-rotation" effect to the basic Plank.
- Set yourself in a Plank.
- Once engaged, lift one arm/leg off the ground without losing your position.
- Bring your arm/leg back to the ground, and lift the opposite limbs.
This may be an easier progression for some people. In that case, lift the opposite arm and leg slightly off the ground. Remember, it's vital to the success of the exercise to maintain hip control.
The main purpose of the core is to resist movement, so it's only fitting that the last Plank variation adds movement to the equation. Any movement forces the core to react—in this case, to stabilize with each step.
- With your feet on glide discs, set up in a Plank.
- Brace your core muscles and take a step with one hand.
- Once stable, step with the opposite hand.
- Take 10 steps forward and backward.
If your basic Plank lacks intensity, first do a form check and make sure you are completely locked in. If you've nailed down all the basics, it may be time to add one of the variations above. The Plank doesn't have to be boring and last an endless amount of time.
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