Although planking looks easy, it’s anything but! This incredibly popular exercise – which should be part of everyone’s workout routine – can seriously boost your fitness levels. The basic plank requires no equipment, can be done virtually anywhere, engages multiple muscle groups simultaneously and benefits the whole body in a multitude of ways. Keep reading to find out all the incredible things that will happen when you add planks to your daily regimen.
1. Your Core Strength Will Improve
One of the top benefits of doing planks regularly is that they strengthen the core – those muscles, bones, and joints that link the upper and lower body. Because we engage the core constantly during everyday life – when we lift, turn, reach and bend – it’s probably the most important area of the body to work on.
Successfully holding the plank position requires that you squeeze and engage all the main core muscle groups – the transverse abdominus, the rectus abdominus, the external oblique muscle, and the glutes. When core strength improves, everyday tasks become easier, we feel stronger and our athletic ability improves.
2. You’ll Tone Up That Tummy
Forget counting crunches every day – they aren’t all that efficient when it comes to getting a flat and toned stomach anyway. A recent editorial in Navy Times, an independent publication that covers the U.S. Navy, also referred to sit-ups ‘an outdated exercise today viewed as a key cause of lower back injuries’.
Instead, planks are the way to go! A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that the plank provides 100% activation of your six-pack muscles whereas crunches only engage 64%.
Regular plank practice means your abdominal muscles will become stronger, and will tighten up. Plus, you’ll be toning other areas of your body too, giving you more bang for your buck.
3. You’ll Strengthen Your Back
While some exercises to work the core can actually weaken and potentially injure the back (such as sit-ups or crunches), the plank will actually help to strengthen it. In particular, the upper back muscles become stronger.
What’s more, the plank is carried out whilst maintaining a neutral spine, eliminating the constant strain caused by flexing and extending of the spinal column.
According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE) “because the plank exercise requires minimal movement while contracting all layers of the abdominal fascia, it is an excellent way to strengthen the core, which, in turn, helps reduce low-back pain”.
4. You May Enjoy Increased Metabolism and Fat Burn
While doing a quick plank or two won’t burn as much fat as cardiovascular exercises, it’s a more efficient way of burning fat. When you engage in strength training, your metabolic rate increases even after you’ve stopped exercising…something that doesn’t happen with cardiovascular activity.
For every pound of muscle you gain, your body burns around 50 calories more per day. So, if you gain 10 pounds of muscle, you can burn up to 500 more calories per day than you did when you were weaker.
5. You’ll Increase Flexibility and Lower Your Risk of Injury
Staying supple and limber throughout your lifespan is vital in order to prevent injury – which is why functional exercises that increase flexibility should be part of any well-rounded workout plan.
Performing certain simple exercises daily, including the plank, can offset some of the natural loss of elasticity of the muscles, tendons and ligaments that comes with age. It can be an especially useful tool for those who sit at a desk all day.
Planks work to increase or maintain flexibility by expanding and stretching the muscles around the shoulders, collarbone, shoulder blades, hamstrings and even the arches of the feet and toes.
To really limber up, consider adding in some side planks to your workout regimen. These stretch out the oblique muscles, particularly if you extend your arm up over your head in line with your body.
6. You’ll Enjoy Better Bone and Joint Health
Physical activity doesn’t just keep our heart healthy and our muscles toned – it’s vital for strong bones and supple joints.
In particular, weight-bearing exercises are key for bone health. These types of activities put stress on the bones attached to our muscles, stimulating them to rebuild themselves. Supporting your own body weight – as you do with the plank movement – is a fantastic weight bearing exercise which won’t see you overdo it.
For more ways to grow and maintain healthy bones right into old age, check out these top tips.
7. Your Posture and Balance Will Improve
Doing planks greatly improves both your posture and balance and, when carried out regularly, helps you to sit or stand up straighter with ease.
Strengthening the core muscle groups leads to better posture as the stomach and back muscles have a huge impact on the other muscle groups in the body (why they are known as ‘the core’!). Planks also help prevent or reverse postural deficiencies, including lordosis and posterior pelvic tilt which result from weakness in the abdomen or hip flexors respectively.
Side planks or planks with extensions are particularly beneficial for building balance, as are planks performed on a stability ball.
8. Everyday Tasks Will Become Easier
Planks are classed as a ‘functional exercise’ because the benefits they bring translate into ‘real-world’ activities – just one of the reasons why some Navy personnel advocate replacing the sit-up in the Navy’s physical-readiness test with the plank.
When undertaken regularly, planking sessions make real life tasks easier because they don’t focus on single muscles, but are designed to utilize several groups of muscles all at once – exactly how our body is designed to function.
As you lose fat, build muscle and strength; improve flexibility, bone and joint health; and enjoy increased mobility and balance you should notice things like shopping, cleaning, decorating and gardening all require much less physical exertion!
9. You’ll Be Happier and Less Stressed
Like most other exercises, planks can lift your spirits (and raise your energy levels).
Desk workers in particular should take note of the plank’s benefits for their mood – these poses help to stretch and relax the muscles in the neck, shoulders and back that often become stiff and tense from prolonged sitting.
The Yoga Journal recommends plank exercises for stress reduction, as they are said to help calm the brain.
At least one scientific study has found strength training to be beneficial for relieving the symptoms of depression. Some fitness experts say that weight-bearing exercises may boost mood as strengthening the core gives you an overall sense of strength.
10. You’ll Get Hooked!
Once you start planking every day and see the benefits to your body, you won’t be able to stop!
By continuing to challenge yourself – increasing the duration or the type of pose – you’ll never get bored by the plank.
Consider adding in extra moves to your planking routine like crunches or jumping jacks and make good use of equipment like stability balls, weights and resistance bands – the possibilities to challenge and improve your fitness levels and planking abilities are endless!
How To Do a Plank Correctly
To perform a basic plank, you should:
- Get into a press up position. Bend your elbows and rest your weight on your forearms.
- Your body should form a straight line from shoulders to ankles. Make sure your hips, head and shoulders don’t drop.
- Engage your core by pulling your belly into your spine.
- Hold this position for 15 to 60 seconds depending on what you are able for. Remember, it’s better to maintain proper form for a shorter period of time than to hold improper form for a long time. Eventually, you can work up to holding for longer periods.
- Rest for approximately one minute and repeat three to five more times.
Variations on the Plank
While there are many variations on the plank, two of the most common are:
- The Side Plank – this is excellent for training the oblique muscles which, in turn, work to stabilize the spine and pelvis, which is key to a healthy spine.
- The Reverse Plank – this isolates and strengthens the gluteal muscles, hamstrings, abs, and lower back, along with the upper body muscles holding you up.
Once you get accustomed to these types of plank, you can get more adventurous and try a straight arm plank, a side plank with crunch, a plank with an arm/leg lift, planks with ‘jumping jacks’, a running plank, a rocking plank, the dolphin plank or planking with the use of a stability ball or resistance bands to name just a few!
Remember, as with any exercise you risk injury if you don’t use the correct technique. If you have any health issues or physical ailments like joint problems or back trouble, always speak with your doctor before beginning a new fitness routine.