A plank is an exercise that one can perform without equipment, almost anywhere. From the palms or forearms, the perfect plank engages numerous muscles simultaneously, benefiting core strength. As an isometric or stationary move, the plank maintains strength by challenging muscles, tendons, and joints to keep the body stable. If done correctly, a plank can strengthen and tone the arms, shoulders, hip stabilizers, glutes, abs, and back — and help prevent back pain. It is vital to perform a plank properly to avoid injury and reap the full benefits.
In a perfect plank, the hands should feel strongly connected to the floor or mat, with fingers slightly splayed for support. Place hands parallel to one another or, to help broaden the collarbones and stabilize the shoulders, slightly turned out. Arms should feel engaged but comfortable, with wrists aligned directly beneath the shoulders. Unlock the elbows.
In plank, the feet should be placed in line with the hips or slightly closer together for an increased challenge. To further engage the legs and glutes, push back through your heels to stretch the back of your legs. Engage your abdominal muscles as well as your quadriceps—or thighs—and squeeze your glutes to activate the lower body.
Keep a neutral neck to avoid any strain on the spine and neck. The back of the neck should lift toward the ceiling and elongate forward at the same time. The gaze should be slightly ahead, with the nose angled toward the floor. Think of the head as an extension of the spine.
The shoulder blades should be as wide apart as possible, taking the weight off the upper body and engaging the core and upper back muscles. The shoulders should not scrunch or shrug up toward the ears. Instead, you will be pressing away from the floor or mat while keeping a straight back.
When holding the perfect plank, your body should form a straight line from the back of your head and neck to your heels. A straight back and engaged abdominal muscles will help the arms stay strong. Tired arms can result in an arched back or sagging hips, both of which can place undue pressure on the spine and cause backache. When one body part tires, it is best to come out of the pose instead of holding in an incorrect position.
While holding a plank, ensure that the bottom front ribs and lower belly are lifted toward the ceiling, bringing the pelvis and lower back into a strong foundational position. Practice abdominal breathing, as opposed to chest breathing, while holding a plank to activate the transverse abdominal muscles and diaphragm. This method can help to strengthen the core even more.
According to the U.S. Navy, the forearm plank better tests core strength and abdominal muscle endurance than curl-ups. The keys to a perfect forearm plank are parallel forearms and fisted hands with palms facing in. Engage the abs and create a straight line with your body with no arch or sag to your back.
When holding the perfect forearm plank position, it is key that the elbows are placed directly below the shoulders. There should be a 90-degree angle between the forearm and the upper arm at all times. It can help to use a mat to make it more comfortable to support much of the weight on the forearms.
If a straight or forearm plank is too difficult, a lack of core strength is the most likely cause. Some people opt to perform planks from their knees to develop core strength and other muscles. This pose may also allow beginners to learn the proper form without compromising their back. When the knees are down, the body should still form a straight line from the head to the knees.
Switch up your plank holds and add some dynamic plank movements to work different parts of the body. In either a straight or forearm position, lift one leg and hold, and then repeat with the other leg. To increase the work to the oblique, abductor, and gluteus medius muscles, the side plank is another great option. As a regular plank, this position can be done from the hand or the forearm.
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