Plank Exercise: The Only Movement You Need For A Strong Core?
You've probably seen countless opposing advice on core training, from fitness experts who all claim to hold the truth. The reason why core training is so controversial is because you have many smaller and bigger muscles working together, and it's also a part of the body that's very important for performing other movements and functional strength in general.
Related - 4 Step Guide to a Shredded Six Pack
So each trainer has his own method of improving it, often depending on the goal you're trying to achieve.
Some suggest a lot of reps, others treat the core just like any other bundle of muscle fiber, proposing a hypertrophy range of 6-12 reps. Still, others advise that training the core is a waste of time since you get enough stimulus from doing heavy squats, deadlifts and other compound movements anyway.
From my personal experience and the studies that I've read on the subject, it's quite possibly true that they're all right. Your core muscles, just like chest or legs will respond to different forms of training and improve in strength and size. Sometimes it's good to take a different approach from your standard form of training in order to shock the muscle and spur a new cycle of growth.
With that being said, this article is about the only exercise you need for a strong and muscle dense core. If you're a minimalist in nature, and want to save on time and use of equipment, this is the exercise for you. It's of course - the plank.
How to perform a plank for six pack abs.
Why Planks Are So Powerful
If you've never done a plank before, you basically straighten your body and use your elbows and feet to lift yourself up from the floor. You remain in that position for approximately 45-60 sec.
That's basically it.
This is an isometric exercise, which means that it doesn't require you to do any movements. You just stay in that position for a pre-determined amount of time. It trains the whole core, unlike various forms of crunches and leg raises which hit a specific part of the abdominal wall.
The reason why planks are really good is because you get a lot of different benefits from doing them. The main one is the equal distribution of muscle size and strength. To hold your body in place, the whole midsection has to put in the work. You also get the benefit of improved posture.
Since you have to keep your whole body in a straight line, it really improves the mind-muscle connection and straightens your whole body. When performed often, the plank can transform your posture and get rid of slouching and the front neck posture, which a lot of people develop from sitting in front of the computer and reading in an unnatural position.
Another reason you should really put an emphasis on planks is the fact that they're very back friendly, and it's arguably the best core exercise when it comes to directly hitting the core muscles without engaging the lower back and hips in a damaging way.
The plank puts far less strain on the lumbar region than the standard crunches. On top of that, planks also strengthen the back muscles, which is why they're associated with reduced back pain as well.
How to Add Resistance to Planks?
If you're familiar with the fact that in order to add strength and size you need to continually challenge the muscle with more resistance, then you might be wondering how to do that with the plank exercise. After all, there is no reps and no weights involved, so what can we do?
There are actually a few very simple ways that you can continuously (and indefinitely) make progress with planks.
1. Duration - The simplest way that doesn't require any weight is to prolong your time in the plank position. If you started with 40 seconds, add 5 seconds every week until you can. After some time you'll stop progressing because it will become too difficult. And then you'll slowly build up resistance again, a few seconds at a time. it's just like any other progressive overload technique, and it works pretty well.
2. Weight - You can also use a heavy backpack to add more resistance. Another option is to put a plate or two on your back, although that will require someone else to do it for you.
3. Sets - Although you can't add reps, you can certainly add more sets and increase training volume that way.
All of these are feasible progressive overload options you can use alone or mix together to make the progress more enjoyable.
Risks Associated With Doing Planks
You might be wondering if there's any scenario in which you shouldn't be doing planks. The truth is that there are two scenarios.
First of all, you should avoid planks if you have high blood pressure. The position will make you red, sweating and increase your heartbeat significantly, especially if you're a bit on the heavy side. This is true for most isometric movements. If you suffer from high blood pressure, it's best to avoid them altogether.
The other situation in which you should not be doing planks is if you suffered a back or neck injury and are still recovering. The long-lasting tension produced by holding the plank position can aggravate a pre-existing injury, so consult your doctor before trying it.
If you don't have these two problems, you are more than likely a good candidate to reap the before mentioned benefits of doing planks.
SummaryIn this article, I wanted to share with you one simple and effective core exercise that can replace most (if not all) core exercises. It provides all the benefits you need, especially if you're a regular gym-goer who is looking to save time and isn't worried about minor details.
Are there other great core exercises?
Sure, and I'm in no way denying that. Leg raises, crunches and various calisthenic movements can all be utilized as well if you really want to push your core to its limits. But if you're looking for just one powerful exercise, planks are the solution you're looking for.