Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Why I Plank? The Benefits of Planking

When I was first introduced to planks 5 years ago, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and thought how easy this exercise will be!  I’ve kept thinking (like everyone else) planks are a waste of time and the only reason these people are doing them is because they are easy and they can tell people they exercised.  

Let me set the record straight: planks, when done correctly and for the appropriate length of time and number of sets are not easy.  Try holding a plank for 2 minutes, resting for 1 minute and then repeating for a total of 3 to 5 sets.  For me, that’s hard.  For someone else, that may be easy.  The appropriate length of time to hold a plank and the number of repetitions are up to the person doing the plank. (Please make sure to check with your doctor before starting any exercise program and doing any exercises). If you haven’t exercised for a while or are out of shape, start out slow.  Do 3 planks holding each for 20 seconds and resting 30 seconds between plank holds.  As you build your core muscles then increase the length of your plank holds and the number of repetitions.

If you push yourself a little, doing planks are not easy and the benefits are outstanding.

Top 5 Benefits of doing Planks
1.   Works your upper abs, your lower abs, your obliques, and your lower back (do standard and side planks to work your entire abs).
2.       Builds the stabilizer muscles.
3.       Builds strength for pushups.
4.       Promotes good posture and helps prevent back injuries.
5.       Teaches your abs to stay contracted in a regular standing position.

How to Do a Plank
1.       Get face down on the floor resting on your forearms and knees.
2.       Push off the floor, raising up off your knees onto your toes and resting mainly on your elbows.
3.       Contract your abs to keep yourself up and prevent your booty from sticking up.
4.       Keep your back flat — don't drop it or you'll be defeating the purpose. Picture your body as a long straight board, or plank.
5.       Hold as long as you can. Aim for 20-30 seconds in the beginning and work your way up to one minute, as you get stronger.
6.       Repeat three times.

*For beginners, do this move on your knees and gradually work your way up to balancing on your toes. 

Variations on the Standard Plank
There are many ways you can mix up the standard plank to work your muscles in different ways while still getting the benefits of plank exercises.

Advanced planks
  • Do planks on your hands. Your body will be in a similar position as a push-up, except your arms are only shoulder-width apart.
  • Use an exercise ball or BOSU ball
    • Place your feet on the exercise ball or BOSU ball and do your standard plank on your hands. You can also do the reverse, by placing your hands on the BOSU or exercise ball instead.
  • Side planks
    • After you have raised yourself to an advanced plank position, rotate your body to one side so you are only supporting yourself with one hand. The other hand will be in the air.
I’m a believer in adding planks to my weekly exercise program.  Next time you are working out with a trainer, if you haven’t been doing them, ask him or her about planks.