The plank. It’s simple. It’s hard. It’s effective.
A front plank is a full-body strengthening exercise that requires no fitness equipment — it’s just you and your bodyweight. I personally like to perform planks on my yoga mat to keep my elbows cushioned and my toes from slipping, but that’s not required. You can do a plank anytime, anywhere. It is an isometric exercise that requires steady breathing, focus, and determination.
I recommend this exercise to all my clients and friends because it is one of the best ways to balance and strengthen many of those deep muscles that support your spine, hip-complex, and shoulder. These deep muscles help stabilize your joints. When they are strong, they make it easier for you to move with more control and comfort. Basically, it counteracts many of the negative things that happen to your body while you, for example, sit in your chair at work for an extended period of time or lounge on your couch at night. In fact, I think I’ll take a break from sitting and go do a plank right now. Be back in a minute….
- Lie face down on your mat, in a prone position, with your stomach resting on the ground.
- Pull your legs and feet together and then flex your feet toward your shins so the tips of your toes are touching the ground.
- Place your elbows directly below your shoulders, with your forearms on the ground in front of you, your palms flat, and your fingers pointing away from your face. Alternatively, some people feel more comfortable grasping their hands together.
- Squeeze your glutes and tighten your abdominal muscles to lift your body off of the ground. The only parts touching the floor are your toes, elbows, and sometimes forearms/hands.
- Make sure your elbows are still directly under your shoulders and that your stomach isn’t sagging toward the ground nor are your glutes lifted into the air above your head — you should be flat like a plank or board.
- Hold for the duration of the exercise.
Main Muscles Targeted:
- If you need to decrease the difficultly level, drop your knees to the floor, keeping your elbows lined up with your shoulders and your toes down on the floor. You can either stay on your elbows or lift yourself up to your hands.
- If that is still too difficult, lift your toes off of the ground, bending your knees to 90 degrees.
- You can also place your elbows on a bench or chair so that your upper body is higher than your lower body.
- If you want to increase the difficultly level, try lifting one foot off of the ground and hold. Alternate halfway through your plank.
- Do this exercise in front of a mirror or with a partner so you can monitor your form. It’s easy to “cheat” when you get tired without even realizing it.
- If you feel yourself tiring, pull your heels back, away from your spine, lengthening your body from your head to your toes.
- Breathe in for a count of five and out for a count of five. Even breaths will help make your mind calm and allow any muscles that should not be clenched to relax.
- Keep your glutes clenched and your belly button pulled in tight toward your spine. This will help you keep your form and stay in the plank longer. But keep breathing!!
- Use the location of your gaze to help keep correct form. Your eyes should be focused down and a little bit in front of you, right around your hands. If you are looking straight down at the mat or up beyond your hands, recheck your body’s alignment.
*Remember, it’s always advised to consult with your doctor or health care expert before adding a new exercise to your routine to make sure you don’t have any contraindications.