This piece first appeared in the October issue of Competitor Magazine.
Also known as “the bridge,” the plank is a versatile core strengthening exercise that helps athletes improve core stability. The plank has its roots in yoga and, like most yoga poses, involves isometric, or long-hold, muscle contractions.
The basic plank is simple: Assume a modified push-up position with your elbows bent 90 degrees and both forearms resting on the floor. Position your elbows directly underneath your shoulders and look straight toward the floor. Your body should form a perfectly straight line from the crown of your head to your heels. Your feet are together with only the toes touching the floor.
Hold this position as long as you can, concentrating on keeping your abdominal and low back muscles tightened to prevent bending at the hips. Once a 30-second hold becomes easy, make the plank more challenging by alternately lifting each foot off the floor or holding the position for an extended amount of time.
At first you’ll find it difficult to do this without bending at the waist or twisting along your long axis, but keep your body as straight and neutral as possible. Keep each foot elevated for a two-count and pause for a two-count between foot lifts. Build up to 10 lifts per foot.
OTHER MODIFICATIONS TO THE PLANK CAN BE USED TO STRENGTHEN DIFFERENT PARTS OF YOUR CORE.
- To work the obliques, rotate onto one side and suspend your body between the forearm of your bottom arm and the outside of your lower foot, with your other foot stacked on top. Rotate onto your other forearm to work the other side.
THERE’S ALSO A REVERSE, OR SUPINE, PLANK.
- Rotate again so you’re face up with your body suspended between your forearms, with your elbows again directly underneath your shoulders, and the heels of both feet resting on the mat or floor, toes pointed upward.
BOTH THE SIDE PLANK AND THE REVERSE PLANK CAN BE MADE MORE CHALLENGING WITH LEG LIFTS.