By Betty Murray
Planks are a popular exercise move, and for good reason. Planking is one of the best exercises to strengthen your abs, back, and core. Planks also work the glutes and hamstrings, and improve posture and balance.
To do a plank, hold the trunk of your body off the ground, supporting your weight on your elbows and knees. Your shoulders, back, core, hips, and buttocks should all be in a straight, flat line. Picture your body as a tabletop, keeping it as flat and level as possible.
It may sound simple, but planking requires strength and endurance to hold the position for any length of time. If you’ve never done a plank before, you may feel your shoulder and core muscles begin to show signs of fatigue after as few as 10 seconds.
Benefits of Planks
Planks will tone your stomach, developing deep inner core muscles. They can help reduce back pain by strengthening the core, as well as muscles in the upper and lower back. Planks improve flexibility in the muscles around your shoulders, collarbone, hamstrings, and even the arches of your feet and toes. Like any exercise, planking can boost your mood by stretching and then relaxing various muscle groups. Finally, planks improve balance and posture by strengthening the back, chest, shoulders, abs, and neck.
How to Plank
To do a basic plank, hold your elbows directly under your shoulders and place your wrists in line with your elbows. Push your body up into your back and hold your chin close to your neck. Contract your abdominal muscles, squeezing your glutes and thigh muscles. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Rest for one minute. Repeat three to five times.
Once you have mastered the basic plank, there are other variations of the plank you can do to engage different core muscles.
Side Plank: Start by lying on your right side. Raise yourself up onto your right forearm, forming a straight line from head to toe. Keep your knees and hips off the floor. If needed, rest your left hand on the floor in front of you for support. Tighten your abs and hold for 20-30 seconds. Rest for one minute, then turn to the left side. Repeat on each side three to five times.
Reverse Plank: Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you. Place your palms on the floor, directly below your shoulders, contracting the muscles in your thighs and glutes and pushing your body up off the floor. Keep your body in a straight diagonal line from shoulders to heels, keeping your hips in line. As a modification, if needed, lower yourself to your elbows.
In any position, basic, side, or reverse plank, you can increase the work load on your body by lifting one leg or arm in the air. When doing so, you will have to fight your body’s natural urge to rotate to one side. For an even more advanced plank, rest your forearms on an exercise ball. Stabilize your body and the ball as you hold the plank position.
Betty Murray, CN, IFMCP, CHC is a Certified Nutritionist & Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner with the Institute for Functional Medicine and founder of the Dallas-based integrative medical center, Living Well Dallas and she is the Executive Director of the the Functional Medicine Association of North Texas. A master of the biochemistry of the body, Betty teaches her clients how to utilize nutritional interventions to improve their health. She specializes in autoimmune conditions, MTHFR, digestive disorders and complex health issues. Betty is a member of the Institute of Functional Medicine and the National Association of Nutrition Professionals.