Here is the second in our series of articles on the recipe for a perfect workout, one that you can tweak and twist to suit your tastes and needs perfectly.
Ingredient No 2: THE PLANK
Firstly, we covered that good all round super food of exercise; the squat. Now, here is the low down on that legendary plank.
What is it?
If you’ve not yet come across the plank, it’s a very straightforward but challenging move. There is a brutal simplicity to it. It’s a little more complicated than getting yourself into the start position for a push up and holding it for an extended period of time, usually in series of timed repetitions.
Why is it good for you?
The plank is famously good for increasing core strength within our torsos, which can aid our overall stability and balance. It is also great for abs, back and shoulder muscles, pecs and glutes. The plank will form some of the muscular groundwork that is needed for that coveted six-pack and if not that far, some great abdominal tone. Whilst ultimately fat will need to be shed for increased visibility of muscle tone, planking will help to tone the muscle base that is needed to shine through.
Additional benefits you might not be aware of:
- It has been cited that the plank can help ease back pain. The American Council on Exercise says that it is effective due to the minimal movement required to do it, whilst requiring the contraction of abdominal muscles that ultimately support those of the back.
- It can improve mood. Whilst all exercise will do this, the release of tension that comes with completing a plank is especially effective for this purpose.
- It can improve your balance and overall posture due to the way the abdominal muscles are engaged.
How to do it:
Get down on your hands and knees. Place your forearms on the floor with your elbows directly under your shoulders and lift your knees off the floor. Keep your gaze to the floor so that your neck is in a neutral position. You want your neck and spine to form a straight line. Whilst in position, brace your abs and pull in your navel. Try also to engage your pelvic floor as in a Kegel exercise (like stopping a stream of urine mid flow).
Hold the plank for 20-30 seconds, breathing normally and repeat 3-5 times.
Variations on the classic front plank include the side and reverse versions. For a side plank, lie on your left side with your legs straight. Prop your body up on your left elbow and forearm, you can use your right arm to help you up. Engage your oblique muscles by pushing your hips up towards the ceiling. If you are a beginner you can keep your right hand on the floor, once you feel strong and steady, lift your right arm in to the air. Repeat on your right side. The side plank is generally harder than the front plank, so ease yourself into it.
To perform a reverse-plank you start in a sitting position with your legs straight out in front of you. Place your hands behind you in line with your shoulders. Lift your body off the floor until your body is in a straight line. You will primarily use your gluteal muscles and upper body strength for this move whilst engaging the core for stability.
How to work it into daily life:
The plank is such an easy component to work into your general exercise routine, as it requires nothing but you, the floor and some focus! Outside of the gym, plank challenges are a great way to get started and they can be performed pretty much anywhere. You can drop and plank while waiting for files to download, things to cook; and if anyone asks you can say you are just looking for something (your abs!).
The plank, like the squat, is such a simple move for the payback. Whatever your fitness and workout goals, the plank is going to play a role. It’s totally flexible in its intensity with the only additional resource needed to do so being a few extra seconds. Whilst it’s interesting to know that the world record time for holding a plank is over 4 hours, the good news is a few seconds several times is plenty!
So, add some planks to your squats and stir, your workout’s already looking good.