4 Steps to Build the Perfect Plank

10b_Holly 2014_Photo by Lynn Kloythanomsup of Architectural Black

We’ve all heard how wonderful planks are for your entire body. And you’ve done one in Pilates, at the gym, or in a yoga class.  I think we would all agree, planks can be challenging! But why are planks so important? Planks train you to recruit and coordinate muscle groups throughout the body, as well as build functional strength and postural awareness.  So here are some tips for building and perfecting your plank!

4 Steps to Build the Perfect Plank

1.  ALIGNMENT IS KEY. It’s called a “plank” for a reason—you are in one long line like a 2 by 4 plank. Focus on creating one straight line from heels → hips→ shoulders → head.

Hips: Be extra aware of not allowing the hips to sag (which pulls on lower back) or flexing/creasing at the hips (which takes the work out of the abs). You should feel the back of the legs and butt working (hamstrings and glutes).

Pelvis: Focus on using the abs to maintain neutral pelvis.

Shoulders: Avoid rounding the shoulders, pinching the shoulder blades, and sagging between the shoulder blades. Activate the shoulder girdle by pressing down into the floor.

Head: Don’t let that head drop. Your head is heavy! On average it weighs 10-11lbs. If you let your head hang, not only does it affect the alignment of your neck but it also can put pressure in the lower back. Look at the floor between your hands and don’t crease in the back of the neck.

2. MODIFY and BUILD.  Don’t start out trying to break any world record for holding a plank (BTW the world record is 4 hours and 26 minutes). Start out holding the position for 10 seconds. Build strength and stamina slowly over time. Start with a modified plank position with the hands on a wall, or with bent knees on the floor. Over weeks and months progress your plank but only as much as you can maintain your alignment and activation of the deep support muscles.

3. DON’T CLENCH, RECRUIT. It’s easy to clench everything in an attempt to maintain a plank. Try to lengthen the crown of the head away from the feet, focusing on length throughout the body. Clenching feels like you’re squeezing everything as hard as you can. Deep core activation will feel like less of everything, not hard as a rock and not a limp noodle. If you’re clenching, regress the plank to an easier version while you build deep strength and keep double checking your alignment!

4. BREATHE! What good is exercise if you forget to breathe?! Your brain and muscles need oxygen so be sure to keep the air flowing. Also if you cannot breathe you know you’re holding too long or you’ve selected a plank that is too challenging for your current stretch.

Don’t let this total body exercise slip through your daily routine. All you need is 30 seconds and a floor or wall.  A good plank will strengthen your core, legs, shoulders, and arms so no excuses, let’s plank!