Abdominal strength is a popular topic in the fitness world with a significant chunk of the global population in pursuit of the illustrious six pack! But aside from the aesthetics, there are countless physiological benefits associated with building a strong core.
- Reduces the risk of lower back pain
- Promotes improved posture
- Better motion
The above three are some of the key reasons why we should have a stronger core. However, during the summer season, the aesthetic angle takes the front seat (we all want to look good in a bikini)! Being in the fitness industry, I encounter more and more people who, whilst are becoming health conscious, still have a super weak under-developed core.
With many clients working in an office situation, it is not uncommon to be sitting in a slumped position for up to 9+ hours a day. As a consequence, many people develop problems with their pelvis, hips and lower back. In order to strengthen these troubled areas we must exercise them daily in a safely manner… HELLO PILATES!
For this post I wanted to discuss the benefits of one of my favourite exercises to teach in class; the plank. Whether it is simply a basic plank or with some cheeky added advancements e.g knee tucks, plank to pike or a side plank, it is always a tough exercise and one of the best ways to train the muscular girdle around our midsections!
It may be hard to believe that the plank can provide such a great workout because it looks so simple. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that the plank provides 100% activation of your six-pack muscles compared to crunches (only 64%). It is a popular element of isometric training which involves contracting not only the abdominals but it also recruits your obliques, glutes, legs and arms too! Which is why we trainers put plank work into our classes here, there and everywhere!
The right way to plank
Posture is a big thing when it comes to planks (and any exercise). Planks refer to holding the trunk of our body off the ground in a straight line. During class I see many clients in a painful position for the spine with hips drooping low. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and can push their body to certain limits that others cannot. So it is always best to ask the trainer if anything feels uncomfortable to give modifications – 1/2 planks (on your knees) are more beneficial if it means getting your posture in control!
For that perfect plank:
- Plant the hands directly underneath the shoulders
- Lift the knees up without hyperextending or ‘locking out’
- Ground the toes on the floor with the heels pressed back to activate the glutes to stabilise the body
- Squeeze those bum cheeks!
- Draw the belly button up into your spine
- Neck should be long in neutral with the shoulders drawn away from the ears and pressed to the ceiling.
As you can see there is lots to think about and it can be quite overwhelming… not so basic after all! But all of these cues are ESSENTIAL for the correct position of a plank.
Once you switch on and begin to engage those core muscles, planks should become easier to hold
for longer, meaning we can add a bit of the KX magic and start to plank, pike, push-up, pull and knee-tuck our way to having some strong abs and become seriously hard core!!