why we plank
“Why do we do so many planks?”
“You really like those plank things, don’t you?”
“Could I do some crunches instead?”
These are all common questions I hear every day! The message I always hope to convey, is that the simplest things are often the most beneficial. The plank is the FOUNDATION FOR CORE STRENGTH, but there is much more to it than just that. Besides the obvious benefit of the plank exercise requiring no special equipment, and being great to tone-up the abs, you may also know that planks are a great way to warm up the body. But did you know that it takes nearly every single muscle in the human body to perform this task? That is over 650 muscles working at the same time! Still need convincing? Keep reading!
Good posture means happy joints and effective muscle movement. Common scenario (guilty myself): When our backs get tired we slouch. Then, SURPRISE!!! We have neck and shoulder pain. When our joints are angry or inflamed we move differently. Pretty soon we have created a new movement pattern to avoid the original pain. Then another pain creeps in, and often another and another. Add in aging and degenerative osteoarthritis and we experience even more restricted movement (so start planking NOW). Planks enable the muscles in the body to work together in proper alignment. Your abs will become stronger and your back will no longer have to do all of the work to sit and stand up straight. Good posture not only feels great, but yields confidence as we stand taller and look leaner!
Less Back Pain
The lumbar vertebrae (bones of the spine in the low back) are subject to degenerative disease, herniated disks, sciatica, bad posture or other low back injuries. Planking directly strengthens the muscles that stabilize the lumbar spine (core lumbar stabilization). Strengthening the core leads to less back pain because it improves our posture and trains our abs to help us sit up straight so our vertebrae is properly stacked. The plank is superior to crunches and sit-ups in this regard because it does not require flexion of the spine.
The plank is an isometric exercise. You are supporting your bodyweight in perfect alignment. Your shoulders and arms are supporting you, while your neck muscles are keeping your head lifted. The upper back is tightly engaged to keep the shoulders and chest lifted and the lower back is working hard not to sag toward the floor. Let’s not forget about the glutes which stabilize the hips and low back, nor the leg muscles which offer support to the lower half of the body. And you thought this was just for abs!!!
The simple, yet complex plank exercise can teach us so much. Upon beginning the position, newcomers will quickly realize their weakest points. More seasoned plankers might discover their fatigued or sore muscles once in plank. Awareness, often understated, is the discovery of the deep core musculature. Once in the plank position be sure to do a Kegel squeeze (pull the pelvic floor muscles up high and tight). Doing so will allow you to better connect with your ab muscles. Being mindful of the body during this exercise, even as you advance and progress, will teach you how small shifts and adjustments change the muscle engagement.
A decent amount of concentration is required in the plank exercise. Focusing on the breath and maintaining proper alignment, forces us to be present in the body during that moment. And the release of possible tension from slouching or prolonged sitting can increase the ability to relax after the exercise (plank and relax). And practicing mindfulness in general, helps up to better cope with external factors outside of that specific moment.
The core muscles being strengthened in plank give you the stability required to balance on one foot as needed, or possibly catch your footing after slipping, or even prevent a fall. Your core will become more functional, able to move and stabilize in various motions.
There are ENDLESS ways to advance the plank exercise as you become stronger: changing the angles (feet elevated, arms out wider), adding movements within the plank (toe taps, arm reaches) or doing a flow (low plank to high plank to side plank, etc.). MY PERSONAL FAVORITE benefit of the plank is that there always presents opportunity for creativity to keep me challenged, motivated, excited and stronger than before. Happy planking!