The good old fashioned plank is a very well-known and commonly used exercise in many people’s ab routine. And as far as isometric exercises go, it’s not a bad little technique.
The main problem however is that, although they’re not necessarily usually done incorrectly, they’re certainly rarely done as well as they could be. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing.
The good thing is that when planks are done in the commonly-accepted way, they’re relatively easy to hold, making them a great option for beginners whose abs aren’t all that strong yet.
The bad part is that the common, straight-body plank actually doesn’t engage the abs all that well. That means that once your abs are no longer at beginner level, it’s not going to be all that challenging or beneficial an exercise to you anymore.
By making 3 simple tweaks however, either one at a time or all combined, you can turn the simple plank into a highly-effective core exercise that will help you develop killer abs.
The Standard Plank
Let’s start by looking quickly at how we’re told a conventional plank should be done.
- Lie face down on the floor, resting on your forearms, with your palms either flat on the floor or facing each other and your feet close together.
- Push off the floor, raising up onto your toes and resting on your elbows.
- Your elbows should be shoulder-width apart and pretty much directly underneath your shoulders, meaning your upper arms will be vertical.
- Keep your back flat, so that your body is in a straight line from your head to your heels, and ensure that your butt doesn’t stick up into the air (sticking your butt up makes the hold easier).
- Hold the position for the prescribed length of time.
You can see what the standard plank looks like in the photo above.
Improving the Plank
OK then so let’s look at how we can improve upon this to make it a more effective exercise. Here are 3 modifications, or tweaks, from most to least significant.
1. Contract Your Abs, Squeeze Your Glutes
The first tweak is to rotate your pelvis into what’s called a posterior tilt, by contracting (shortening) your abs and squeezing your glutes at the same time. This will cause your spine to flex, in other words, your back to arch. Rotating your hips in this way will greatly increase the tension in your abdominal muscles, making the plank far more challenging and effective.
2. Move Your Elbows Forward
As I mentioned above, in a standard plank you generally keep your elbows directly under your shoulders. By locating them further forward (ahead of your shoulders) however, you effectively increase the distance between your support points (elbows to toes). Once again, this makes the plank more difficult to hold.
You’ll find that moving your elbows forward in this way also places much more load on your lats, middle and lower back, making it a very challenging stabilization exercise.
3. Move Your Forearms Closer Together
By locating your forearms closer together on the floor than shoulder width, you add an element of instability to the plank. This makes it more challenging for your core to maintain stability, especially your obliques and transverse abdominis muscles.
In the video below, Bret Contreras demonstrates how to do the plank incorporating all 3 of these enhancements.
Give these new, souped-up planks a try. I’m sure you’ll find them far superior to the common, garden variety ones you may have been doing up until now. Please let me know what you thought of them in the comments below!