Holding plank position is a popular exercise, not only as part of a workout, but even as a workout challenge in itself. Plank challenges often end up with holds of several minutes. While there’s no doubt that it’s an achievement to be able to do this, it isn’t necessarily the best way to use plank position.
Benefits of plank holds
You need to work the deep abdominal muscles to get flat abs – curl up exercises work the muscles which flex the trunk, not the ones that pull the ab area in. The plank, done properly (see below) certainly works the right muscles.
Disadvantages of plank holds
You only work the muscles in one position. So while you might be good at pulling the abs in while you’re in plank position, once you’re up and moving around it might not be so easy. Standing and moving about challenges the core muscles in ways that holding a static plank position does not. If you want your abs to be flat while you’re active, it’s better to train them in a variety of ways.
Other concerns about static exercise
Usually during exercise, muscles are continually contracting and relaxing, but when a contraction is held blood flow is restricted and blood pressure builds up. This is usually safe for healthy individuals (although not the most pleasant feeling). It’s not advisable for anyone who already has high blood pressure. Holding full plank for 5 minutes isn’t great for the wrists either, but you can get around this by either doing an elbow plank or using a gym ball.
How to get the most out of holding plank position
You need to do it properly
You need to be a straight as a plank! Some people look more like a hump-backed bridge. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell if you are in the correct position without a mirror or someone to check for you, unless you’re used to doing it properly and know what it feels like. If you’re not straight, the core muscles aren’t engaged like they should be and you’re not working your core effectively. If possible, use a mirror, or even video yourself. Check that your whole body is in line.
In fact, there isn’t really one best plank position – using a mixture and moving between them will give you best results. Don’t do excessively long holds – it’s not a good use of your time. Do sets of shorter holds in different positions. Variations include elbow plank, side plank and side elbow plank. You can either do holds of each of these with rest in between or, for more dynamic challenge, move from one to the next.
For example, you could start with side plank on the right for 10 seconds, rotate into full plank position and hold for 10 seconds, then rotate onto the left side for a 10 second hold:
Use a stability ball
Stability balls work really well with the plank because they make holding the position more challenging.
Add some press ups
Press ups engage the same core muscles as the plank, but the up and down movement makes it more challenging. Remember, it’s better to do a modified press-up with good technique than a full press-up badly!
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See these posts for more ideas on core strengthening workouts: