You heard it here first everybody, I want to bring back the trendy, but outrageous practice of laying flat on random objects. Take to your social media accounts and start posting pictures of you planking in the most random places. Lets work together and bring back this hilarious trend!….Okay I hope you all made it through that intro. As cool as that trend was a couple years ago, I do not want to bring it back. Instead, today I want to talk about planking as it relates to fitness. Im sure many of you know what a plank is, but here is a quick dictionary definition: planking is an isometric exercise in which you support your bodyweight to strengthen the stabilizing muscles in your midline. Don’t be fooled by Instagram clips and facebook posts, crunches are NOT the best way to train your core. While crunches and similar movements (hanging leg raises, strict toes to bar, v-ups) definitely have their place, they won’t have nearly as much application to training and life as planks will. Planks are some of the greatest exercises for a number of reasons: they strengthen your core, they have a ton of transferability, and there are lots of variations to increase, or decrease difficulty.
I want you to think back to the last time you did a solid plank for one minute. Its probably been a hot minute. As CrossFitters, we indirectly train our core through lifting weights and performing gymnastic movements. And while recently we have started to train the midline more with our skill sessions, we still do not spend a lot of time directly training our core. I used to think that training CrossFit was more than enough to give me a strong midline, and I will be the first to admit I was wrong! A couple months ago, I did the awakening training series, which is a functional bodybuilding program that is offered by my man crush Marcus Filly. If you need more of an explanation on what functional bodybuilding is check out this post I made on the subject . In the program, I ended up doing a ton of core training, which included but wasn’t limited to a lot of planking variations. I can remember how quickly I was humbled when I started doing a lot of the planks and other core movements. I quickly found out that, while my core was stronger than the average persons, I wouldn’t necessarily say I had a strong core. I don’t want to sound like I am bad mouthing CrossFit, I am simply here to say that, while doing normal WODs strengthens your core, it will not give you a strong core. If you want to improve your lifting, your gymnastics, look better and feel better, I would highly encourage you to start regularly incorporating planks into your workouts.
Now, I am here to tell you that while planks may SEEM boring and easy, that they are most definitely not boring or easy. As I had said earlier, there are a lot of variations to make planks more interesting/challenging. Before we dive too much into variations though, lets talk about the basics of the plank. Lets take the basic form of the plank, the middle plank (plank on your elbows), and talk about the points of performance. Ideally we are setting up with our shoulders stacked over our elbows, our hips and midline aligned and tucked in to keep our back nice and flat, and our legs straight with our feet close to each other. Do your best to make sure you are hitting all these points, if you’re not, you may be making the movement easier, or displacing the load onto your back (we definitely want to avoid that). This is where you really need to police yourself, or ask a coach for some insight. While you may feel like you’re holding position, you may be out of alignment with your hips, or not REALLY engaging your core. Simply doing the movement is not enough, you have to have good intent behind the movement. I would suggest starting with this variation, but even this variation can be challenging. If you are having trouble holding good position for 30 seconds, there are a couple of things you can do to alter the plank to fit your ability. One of the easiest ones is moving your feet a little wider apart. This widens your base of support and makes it a little easier to maintain proper position. Ideally you want to be holding the plank for 30 seconds or longer, to get intended benefit from the movement. Another way to make the plank a little easier to elevate your torso. You can do this by putting your elbows on a box, or a stack of plates. While you may be able to do a tougher variation for 10 seconds, it won’t be enough time under tension to give you a lot of benefit. Pick a variation in which you can do :30s-1min each set.
If you have the regular middle plank down, lets talk about some variations to spice up your planking! An easy one to add an extra challenge to your planks is the banded push up plank . This one adds an external force you must resist against and is deceptively tough! Start with a lighter band, hitting 3 sets of :35-:45 seconds on each plank, and go up in band tension if necessary. Another awesome variation that will add some shoulder stability into the mix is the ring plank. If you fancy yourself a core ninja you can also try the feet elevated version, single arm version, or single leg version. You can also apply all those traits (feet elevated, single arm, single leg) to just a regular grounded plank to make it tougher. There are just endless variations! If you’re worried about side planks not being tough enough, don’t worry I got you covered. You can add a kettlebell above your shoulder to make it tougher, you can do a side star plank (awesome for prepping core and hips for squatting), you can even do a ring side plank (warning this variation is pretty tough!!). Point being, there are a lot of variations to challenge you, and to keep you progressing.
There are an incredible amount of ways to plank and increase, or decrease the demand on your midline. While I did throw out a lot of variations to do, I would highly encourage you to start simple. Do regular planks 2-3 times a week, doing 3 sets of a middle plank for :40s-1min each set, and 3 sets of a side plank, :30-:45 seconds each side. Once the basic versions aren’t much of a challenge for you, then start to add in some variations to spice up your planks and challenge yourself a little more. As said before, incorporating more planks will help imrpove your lifts, gymnastics, make you feel better, and maybe even look better 😎. If you need some insight as to how to do the plank properly, or just have any questions about incorporating them into your training, ask a coach! We always want to help you become the best you, so never hesitate to ask us anything.