It takes more than drool-worthy six-pack abs to have a strong and healthy core. The rectus abdominus, responsible for six-pack abs, only represents one of several muscles that comprise the core. By planking we can activate so much more!
A plank, a hold in the top of a push-up position, gives us targeted strengthening for the upper body and core. On land, the challenge is holding the position as gravity pulls down. In water, keeping the hips facing down with water moving around the body makes it hard. Top tip: placing your feet wide with toes on the ground can really help with stability, and focus on length in the spine to use energy efficiently.
1. Improve posture by strengthening the abs and shoulders. Good posture means less strain on the joints and can help align the spine to reduce back, neck, and shoulder pain.
2. Muscle balance and functional core training. Functional fitness tells us that moving in more directions and recruiting more than one muscle group at a time mimics real life movement patterns and has positive implications for overall strength, health, power, agility and balance. Isometric training – like planks – benefit us by requiring us to hold a position without joint movement but while activating muscles by bracing, and is a healthy way to strengthen muscles without compromising joints or exacerbating poor movement patterns. Plank holds do exactly that. Strong abdominals and back muscles mean that the joints will be able to function at their best, which helps improve or maintain muscle balance. This means everyday activities will be easier to do.
3. Better mobility. That’s the ability to move freely with ease. Muscles get “tight” when they try to give the body stability. When you improve muscle strength in a balanced way it helps you become more mobile.
4. Move in more directions. We cannot work our core predominantly in a bent forward position (ie: crunches) and expect a strong and healthy core (including the chest, back and sides of our body). Working all the core muscles and doing so in a variety of manners especially while recruiting multiple muscle groups is more advantages for posture, back health, stabilization, strength and body mechanics than doing so in isolation.
This kind of functional strength is important for so many things like playing your favorite sport and even sitting at your desk. The benefits are endless!
As our society’s posture is progressively being pulled forward, with rounded shoulders and a forward head posture from sitting and smart phones, neck and back pain is becoming an epidemic. Planks allow us to train in an erect spinal position, strengthening the core from all sides and accessing multiple muscles simultaneously. This type of bracing and strengthening of an erect posture is essentially creating an internal scaffolding of support for the spine.
Performing planks in the water with use of a noodle for support, offers an advantage because the head cannot hang forward into the water and thus forces the muscles of the neck and upper back to engage. The challenge of doing planks in the buoyant environment has cross-training benefits of increased chest and shoulder strength and stability, as well as lower back, abdominal and oblique strength.
There are so many ways to plank (see this collection on WECOACH Workouts for 36 ways to plank), but here are my favourites:
- Squat Jump Planks – A fun, challenging exercise that combines planks and squat jumps. Plank to squat really fires up the core. Add a jump to strengthen the legs. Grab a noodle and squat jump plank!
- Running Planks – Running planks mostly work the core and lower body. But when you add push-ups, rows, straight arm pulls and arm curls with a noodle, running planks target whole body strength.
- Upside Down Planks – Kick up the cardio and build strength in your chest, shoulders, abs, and back with a noodle behind the body for upside down planks. This advanced level series mixes things up with side planks.