Just like the foundation of your home, planks are the first building block for any workout routine. Once you nail down the plank, you can move onto doing other basic body-weight exercises, like push-ups and mountain climbers.
While planks are best known for strengthening your core, they actually work everything from your quads and glutes to your shoulders and back. Great for building good posture and total-body muscular endurance, this highly versatile move can be performed on your forearms, hands or on your sides. It can also be done on flat ground, at an incline or decline or on an uneven surface, like a stability ball.
Here are the big benefits of planks that will convince you to start holding one now.
1. You'll Build Better Core Stability
Core stability is essential for performing everyday tasks, such as opening doors, lifting heavy groceries and even walking with proper posture. While there are many ways to improve core stability, planks are the heart of it. That's because planks work your entire core, which is comprised of more than just your abdominal muscles. It also includes your hips, pelvic floor and lower back.
When you perform a plank, you're not only contracting your abs, but you're also tightening your quads and glutes, which helps reduce pressure on your lower back. According to a January 2017 meta-analysis in Physical Therapy in Sport, stabilization exercises, like planks, can help decrease back pain.
Moreover, planks are a classic example of the power of isometric exercises, which are the ultimate stabilization moves, per the Mayo Clinic. Isometric exercises like the plank are great for building stability because you are contracting muscles without moving any joints.
2. You'll Notice Better Posture
As you develop a more stable core, you may begin to notice improved posture. Whether you're sitting, standing or performing day-to-day activities, your core plays a big role in maintaining posture and alignment, says Jereme Schumacher, PT, DPT, physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in San Diego.
"Strengthening and challenging your core is very important, because it will help improve different bodily postures you might find yourself in throughout the day," Schumacher says. "Everything from picking up a heavy box, to just standing up, requires a strong core."
In addition to engaging your core, planks encourage glute and hip activation, both of which are crucial for good posture and movement, from walking to running and jumping, says Samuel Chan, PT, DPT, a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) and physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York City.
Practicing good posture may sound like an insignificant detail, but it's actually a big factor in your overall back health, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Poor posture often contributes to common body aches and pain, like in the shoulders and upper and lower back. But improving your posture with core exercises can help minimize or eliminate nagging pains.
3. You'll Build Strong and Stable Shoulders
Shoulder muscles often get overlooked, but they are crucial for lifting and reaching overhead. Doing planks also improves your overall shoulder strength and stability, Chan says.
"By pressing through your elbows and holding your chest up from the floor, planks challenge the serratus anterior, a key scapular muscle important in shoulder stability and health," he says.
By boosting shoulder stability, planks can in turn help increase shoulder strength, which may ease shoulder pain and prevent impingement.
"I often prescribe planks for my patients who are experiencing shoulder pain or impingement, even though planks are traditionally considered an ab exercise," Chan says. "Bearing weight through your arms will force your joints and bones to adapt and become stronger."
A common injury in older active adults, shoulder impingement occurs when the rotator cuff swells, creating compression or pinching in the surrounding tendons, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
4. You'll Improve Your Muscle Endurance
While increasing muscle strength and size are typically more popular goals, you don't want to neglect muscular endurance, which is a muscle's ability to move against resistance rep after rep.
Because planks are an isometric exercise, you hold them for a longer period of time than other exercises, which helps build muscle endurance, especially in the core, Schumacher says. Strengthening your core endurance will help you maintain good posture during long runs, walks, bike rides and other sustained activity.
"One easy way to progress with planks is to just hold it for a longer period of time," Schumacher says. "This will help to build greater muscle endurance throughout your body, especially within your postural muscles, which need a lot of endurance throughout the day."
Start by holding a plank for 15 seconds and work your way up to a minute.
5. Your Glutes Will Grow Stronger
In addition to all the core-strengthening benefits, planking will help strengthen your glutes, too, Chan says.
When you hold a plank with proper form, you'll notice your pelvis is tilted slightly down to increase your abdominal engagement. This tilt will also target your gluteus maximus, which plays a big part in improving your posture.
"Planks are a good way to get some extra work in for the glutes, which are important for balance, strength, running and pretty much any other standing activity," Chan explains.
How to Perfect Your Plank
Although you may be eager to reap the many benefits of the plank, it only works if you have the form down. So, before you jump into a 60-second plank hold, be sure to brush up on the basics.
"A common mistake when doing planks is not keeping your whole body engaged throughout the exercise," Schumacher explains. "You always want to make sure you are keeping your muscles active from your shoulders all the way down to your feet."
Also, don't forget to keep a steady breathing pattern as you hold, Schumacher says. Often, people lose steam when holding their plank because they forget to supply their body with oxygen — not because they're lacking strength.
- Start on your hands and knees with your shoulders stacked above your wrists and your hips directly above your knees.
- Step your right foot back and then your left foot to balance on your hands and toes. Your body should form a straight line from the top of your head to your heels. Tuck your pelvis in to engage your core and squeeze your glutes.
- Hold this position while maintaining a neutral spine.
You can progress or modify the plank exercise to match your fitness level, both Schumacher and Chan say. If a 15-second plank is too challenging, for example, you can hold it for only 10 seconds. Or, drop down to your knees to make the exercise easier.
When you're ready to take the standard high plank to the next level, you can raise an arm (or an arm and a leg) off the ground while you hold the pose. You can also experiment with side planks and other plank variations. The options are (nearly) endless.
- American Council on Exercise: "Reality Check: Are Planks Really the Best Core Exercise?"
- Physical Therapy in Sport: "Stabilization Exercise Compared to General Exercises or Manual Therapy for the Management of Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Posture and Back Health"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Impingement Syndrome of the Shoulder"
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