I think a big mistake that people frequently make is thinking that they’ve outgrown an exercise. Glute bridges, goblet squats, pushups, and most frequently, planks. These all have their place in exercise programs, no matter what your experience level.
Planks are unbelievably simple and can be done in your living room while you watch Cupcake Wars. From the outside, it seems that all you need to do is hold your body like a suspension bridge above the floor. But there’s so much more going on in a plank than meets the eye.
In some cases, trainers will go as far as to say that core exercises are unnecessary because of the high level of core activation in exercises such as squats, deadlifts, etc. However, it is very easy to use diaphragmatic breathing, the Valsalva maneuver, and hard lumbar extension to provide stabilization in the absence of much “core” activation at all. Front and side plank variations teach us how to utilize the RA, TVA, QL, obliques, erector spinae, and multifidus to prevent movement throughout our core.
There are a seemingly endless number of plank variations that can be used in training sessions. From there, we typically graduate ourselves to some complicated rolling-ab-wheel-thing exercise and leave the plank eating lunch by itself like Steven Glansberg.
At my studio, we typically include planks as one of our first core exercises, utilizing both those and deadbug variations to assist clients in learning how to brace the anterior core and keep the ribcage from flaring. From there, I typically try to increase the difficulty of planks through as many programs as possible until I find a need for some type of rollout or saw variation. One of our favorite variations to use with clients is a long-lever plank (a.k.a. RKC plank).
But as a trainer, I’m constantly trying to figure out how to make a challenging exercise more difficult. How can I make a plank more challenging without the use of a stability ball, Bosu, ab wheel, or some other device?
Some Science-y Stuff
If we approach this from anatomical perspective, we can see that the primary muscle involved in anti-extension of the lumbar spine is the rectus abdominis. Fascially, we know that the rectus abdominis is connected to the pectoralis major superiorly and the adductor longus inferiorly. This is called the functional front line and is a myofascial meridian that connects the humerus to the contralateral (opposite) femur. To place a greater stress on the RA, we can either make the lever longer at the shoulder joint (in order to elongate the pec major) or spread the legs out wider (to elongate the adductor longus).
A long lever (RKC) plank is a solid first step, but try taking your long lever plank to the next level by spreading your legs as your walk your feet out. Here, we’re elongating the entire functional front line. Just be sure to keep the knees and hips locked out.
I recommend including planks in every program, whether you’re a trainer, athlete, or average joe. Even if you use them as a pre-lift activation exercise, performing a few solid planks each week will help remind yourself how to engage the right muscles to resist lumbar extension.
Making sure you keep a posterior pelvic tilt and a neutral cervical/thoracic spine. If you aren’t sure how your plank looks, have a trainer check it out or take a video of yourself.
That’s about it for this post. Go add planks to the list of things you need to do to be awesome and go be awesome.