30 day exercise challenge–Plank tutorial

  • What is a Plank? It’s an exercise that involves an isometric contraction. Meaning, that you are holding in a position for a certain length of time. You’re contracting your muscles, primarily your abdominals, in order to support your body weight and remain in a prone position.
  • Main muscles worked: The abdominals, including your rectus abdominis (6 pack), obliques (on the side) and transverse abdominals (the corset underneath your rectus abdominis that holds everything together).
  • Other muscles involved: Shoulder muscles such as the side and rear deltoids and part of the upper leg.
  • Benefits: The plank trains muscular endurance, strengthens the abdominals, and improves posture. Great for working the deep ab. muscles that are responsible for core stability,, which is why the Plank is part of the 30-day challenge. Not only does it work multiple muscles at once, it will aid in your performance in other exercises including the squat and push up because the deep core muscles support the weight and your body in the other moves.
  • Potential risks: Very low risk exercise, but make sure to work at a level that’s comfortable for you. There’s a small risk of lower back pain, so make sure that you contract the tummy muscles and keep a neutral spine (flat back). People who are pregnant or just returning to fitness after pregnancy may find the front plank to cause too much pressure on the lower ab. muscles and need to either modify or take a modified option (eg. Side plank from knees).
  • How to perform: Facing the floor or a mat, place forearms on the floor, having the arms shoulder width apart and elbows in line with the shoulders. Walk the knees back, keeping a neutral spine, and contract the tummy muscles. Imagine your bellybutton rising up to the spine and forward towards the ribs. In you notice the low back swaying, contract the glutes and leg muscles to control the pelvis. For a more advance option rise up onto your toes and straighten the legs. Hold for the required amount of time or to fatigue. Don’t forget to breath.
  • Modifications: Remain onto the knees if going up onto the toes is too difficult. If you can hold up onto your toes for longer than 60 seconds, try rising one leg up for three-legged plank. Add movements such as taping the feet out side-to-side, or rising up one arm. You can choose a high plank variation, on your hands and toes, where the hands are stacked under the shoulders.
  • Things to watch for:
    • Keep the muscles contracted but don’t hold your breath.
    • Keep the back neutral. If your hips tend to rise up, walk your toes out further and contract the glutes to tilt the hips slightly forward, if your hips sink down, try a modified pose and lift the bellybutton up to the spine.

—Submitted by Florence S., University of Saskatchewan