One of my clients recently asked me what my favorite move was to build core strength. Before I answer this, let me first emphasize how important individual biomechanics are. Everyone has different biomechanics, so what works for one person may not work for the other. That is why fitness and nutrition has so many different variables. There is no one perfect way of exercising or eating that works for everybody. This is called bio-individuality. Each person has specific needs according to age, gender, size, lifestyle and even genetics. However, if I must choose one of my favorite core-building exercises it would be the plank.
The plank is an isometric exercise that helps to build endurance in your entire midsection. Not only are planks effective and powerful, it can be done pretty much anywhere.
Muscles targeted in a plank include: rectus abdominis (abs), external obliques, lower back muscles, glutes, shoulders and the many muscles that stabilize the torso.
How to Perform a Basic Plank:
Let’s get to work. Follow my instructions and use the picture as reference.
- Lie face down on the mat with your elbows under your shoulders. Press your elbows into the floor leaving a 90-degree bend at the elbow.
- Make sure your elbows are directly underneath your shoulders. Lift your hips and roll onto the balls of your feet while tightening your midsection.
- Keep your back flat and tuck your pelvis inward keeping your butt neutral relative to your back and legs.
- Hold that position as long as you can without dropping your body or lifting your butt.
Note: One of the cues that works wonders while doing a plank is to pull your navel (belly button) in toward your spine as you firmly hold in your abdominal muscles. Avoid any curve in your lower spine. This will take pressure away from your back and put all of the tension on your abs.
Example of a Basic Plank
How to Perform an Advanced Plank
Once the basic plank becomes easier, you can lift one leg off the ground to challenge more of your stabilizer muscles. This is a great move for targeting your glutes as well, which are heavily involved in the leg lifting. The idea is to keep you hips parallel to the floor as you lift one leg up behind you. Squeeze your glutes on the raised leg. Hold for 30 seconds and switch to the other side.
Example of an Advanced Plank
You can start implementing the plank exercise in your routines right now. The key is to remember to start off slowly. Listen to your body and don’t try to “push through the pain.” Be patient and don’t get discouraged if you can’t hold your plank for a long time. You will get stronger each time and you’ll be into the advanced plank before you know it.