The plank, or planking, is an exercise that involves your core muscles, improving your strength, balance and endurance. The exercise is so-named because, when done properly, you straighten your entire body and maintain it rigidly, just like a plank of wood. Like other calisthenic exercises, it requires no extra equipment or weights, making it a convenient form of strength training if you're on a small budget or are traveling.
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The Basic Technique
To perform a basic plank, lie on a level surface, belly down. Position your feet so that your toes touch the floor. Bring your hands forward, near the sides of your head, so that your forearms lie on the floor, parallel to one another and to your torso. Slowly and gently, lift your torso and your legs off of the floor, putting all of your weight on your toes and your forearms and elbows. Keep your body straight, imagining it as a single rigid plank, from the top of your head to your heels. Hold the position for at least five seconds, breathing steadily throughout. When you complete the position, gently bring your torso back to the ground. Work up to holding the position for 60 seconds.
The plank position makes an effective component for your workout, as it engages a wide range of major muscle groups. The primary areas affected are the abs and back, including the erector spinae and the rectus abdominus and transverse abdominus. In addition, the position uses the trapezius, rhomboids, deltoids and pectoral muscles, of the upper body, as well as the gluteus maximus and quadriceps of the lower body.
Variations With Equipment
You can increase the intensity of the plank position using an inflatable exercise ball. Using an exercise ball, start out with your belly on the ball. Walk your hands forward along the ground, letting your body roll over the surface of the ball. You should end up with the ball supporting your shins and your hands supporting your upper body. Keep your arms straight, with your shoulders directly above your hands. Hold for at least five seconds.
Side Plank and Modified Plank
To work on your side abdominal muscles, start out lying on your side with your feet stacked. Use the arm that's closer to the ground to support your upper body. Your elbow should touch the ground and your forearm should rest on the ground, perpendicular to your body. Gently lift your body into a straightened, rigid plank, using your arm and the outside of your lower foot to support yourself. Do the same on the alternate side. If you require a simpler take on the plank, use your knees instead of your toes to support your lower body. Between your knees and the top of your head, try to keep your torso straight as a plank. Hold for at least 5 seconds. Work up to holding the position for 30 seconds on each side.