by: Nicholas M. Licameli, PT, DPT
The plank is one of the best exercises for improving total body strength and spinal health. In order to perform the plank safely and effectively, pay close attention to the position of the lower back and pelvis.
Before we get into the steps necessary for a proper plank, let’s take a quick look at how to properly contract the abdominal muscles.
In order to fully contract your abs during a plank, you want to engage both your rectus abdominis (6-pack muscle) and transverse abdominis (deep stabilizer muscle, much like a corset or weight belt). To contract the rectus abdominis, imagine bringing the ribs and front of the pelvis together. To contract the transverse abdominis, imagine the feeling when cold water reaches your navel when walking into a pool. When contracting the transverse abdominis, there should be no actual spinal movement, just compression and stabilization (again, like a corset or weight belt).
- Squeeze your glutes and contract your abs (rectus abdominis AND transverse abdominis), which will pull your pelvis into a slight posterior pelvic tilt (think slightly rounding your back).
- Keep your head and neck in a straight line. DO NOT LOOK UP. Your tailbone, mid back, and head should all be in line with each other (see picture below).
- Once you assume the proper position, maximally contract every muscle from your toes to your fingers but DO NOT HOLD YOUR BREATH.
- Imagine isometrically pulling your elbows and feet together.
- When coming off of a plank, slowly lower your knees to the floor (see picture below). DO NOT let your hips/pelvis drop to the floor.
A common mistake I see is treating a plank like a marathon, rather than a sprint. Instead of thinking, “How long can I hold a plank for?” think “How ‘short’ can I hold a plank for?” The idea is, the harder the contraction, the shorter the duration. If you’re holding it for a short period of time (30 seconds or less) and no longer feel challenged by your bodyweight, adding a weight to your back (start with 5-10 lbs.) will force your muscles to work harder to keep the isometric contraction. Just be sure the weight does not cause your lower back to slouch toward the floor. You can also add a stability ball or arm and leg movements.Add planks to your training to improve total body strength and reap the benefits of a healthy spine.
Be sure to check out this video as well as the rest of the Feel Good Friday series on my YouTube channel at the following link: