Planks: A love-hate relationship

By Emily McLaughlin

Looking to tone up, slim down or build muscle? Odds are everyone is looking to do one of these three things. There is one exercise we all love to hate that targets all of our problem areas—the plank.

Why you hate them: Holding a plank position is challenging and oftentimes a little boring. It is easy to say, “I will hold this plank for a minute,” and then decide to give up because it hurts and/or you are bored, but don’t give up! A lot of people complain about pain in their wrists, elbows and shoulders, however, it does not have to be so painful. Remember that a plank mainly targets the abdominal muscles. There should be minimal pain in the wrists and elbows as long as you are holding your core tight will take the weight off of the limbs supporting the body.

Why you should love them: Have you ever wondered why those who do yoga and pilates on a regular basis are so slim and toned? They are holding planks for extended periods of time! There are many different variations of the plank with several modifications that can trim that unwanted fat and tone up muscles all over the body.

Plank exercises and modifications

plank 1 mclaughlin
(Courtesy of Emily McLaughlin)

Basic Plank: Abdominals, Hips, Back

This exercise can be done with your arms extended or by supporting your weight on your elbows (both images are below). If your arms are extended, it is important that your wrists are positioned directly under your shoulders. When supporting your weight on your elbows, your elbows must be directly under your shoulders. Keep your hips up and your body long and straight. It helps to suck your stomach in and squeeze your legs tight as Nicole demonstrates.

planks 2 mclaughlin
(Emily McLaughlin)

Planks with hip lift: Abdominals, Hips, Arms

Start in a basic plank on your elbows. Lift your hips toward the ceiling (as demonstrated by Nicole). Don’t forget to keep control of your abs, holding them tightly as you lift and then lower back down to the basic plank position. Don’t let those hips sink any lower than your shoulders. Lifting and lowering is one rep—do 5 reps as a slow and controlled pace. Rest and do 2 more sets. *This move can also be done with your arms extended (your hips will lift into a downward-facing dog position). Remember to keep the body moving slowly with as much control as possible. Use a mirror to check form during each rep.

planks3 mclaughlin
(Emily McLaughlin)

Plank with leg lift: Legs, Abdominals, Buttocks, Hips

Start in your preferred basic plank position (arms extended or with supporting elbows). Start by lifting your right leg off the floor, keeping it as straight as possible. Hold this position for a few seconds and then switch legs. This is 1 rep—try to do 10 reps.

planks4 mclaughlin
(Emily McLaughlin)

Plank with knee in: Buttocks, Hips, Shoulders, Abdominals

Same idea as the leg lifts above—start in a preferred basic plank position. Lift your right leg and bring your knee into your chest like Nicole is demonstrating. It is okay to let your hips lift up slightly, but the goal is to keep the body straight. Hold that position for a few breaths and then return your right leg to its original position on the ground. Bring your left leg in next. This is 1 rep. Do 5 reps.

planks5 mclaughlin
(Emily McLaughlin)

Side Plank: Hips, Obliques, Arms

Start by lying on one side with your arm or elbow placed firmly on the ground. Lift your hips up off of the ground, balancing on your feet and arm. Check your form: keep your body long and straight. Also make sure your wrist or elbow is right under your shoulder. Hold this position.

planks6 mclaughlin
(Emily McLaughlin)

Side plank with arm through: Arms, Obliques, Shoulders

From the side plank position above you can feed your arm up from the ceiling through the opening below your waist (Nicole demonstrates this in the image). Return to the starting position—that was one rep. Do 10 reps on each side.

planks7 mclaughlin
(Emily McLaughlin)

Lower hip from side plank: Hips, Obliques, Shoulders, Arms

Start in your preferred side plank position (either on your elbow or with your arm extended). Next, begin by lowering the hips keeping your shoulder and arm strong. When your hips are only a few inches off the ground, raise them back up to side plank. This is 1 rep—do 10 reps on each side.

planks8 mclaughlin
(Emily McLaughlin)

Reverse Plank: Buttocks, Back, Hips, Shoulders, Arms

Come to a seated position with your legs extended in front of you. Place your hands behind you with your fingers facing away from your back. Lift those hips off the ground creating a straight line with your body. Your shoulders must be over your wrists to provide adequate support. Hold this position for 5 deep breaths. Lower your hips down to rest and then repeat the process twice more.

planks9 mclaughlin
(Emily McLaughlin)

Reverse plank with leg lifts: Buttocks, Back, Hips, Shoulders, Arms

Begin in your reverse plank position. Lift your right leg up off the ground and hold this position for a few seconds. Lower your leg and repeat on the left (Nicole demonstrates below). This is 1 rep—try to do 5-10 reps.

If keeping a slim tummy is important to you, incorporate some or all of these exercises into your ab routine and remember to engage your abs during all of your daily activities. Clench your core during cardio exercises or during your car ride to work and you will start to see results in no time. Doing so will also help you hold those pesky planks a little longer.

If you are still struggling to hold planks and you think your arms are the issue, incorporate some arm toning exercises into your workout routine.

Stay tuned for more tips from Stay Healthy, Stay Happy and Campus Rec Centers’s pilates instructor, Nicole Webb.

To see other excercises and more examples of planks, check out Emily’s blog at: http://stayhealthystayhappy.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/planks-a-love-hate-relationship/