7 Health Benefits of Plank Exercises (+5 Plank Variations You Should Know)
Originally posted on: JennReviews.com
The plank is one of the simplest exercises that you can do – it’s simple in its appearance and the amount of steps involved in doing one. Being simple, though, does not mean that doing a plank is easy.
Getting into plank pose can be easy. Holding a plank can even be easy, for a few seconds, but since the plank is an exercise position that can be held indefinitely, its difficulty can range from easy, short-term planks to excruciating tests of endurance. A heads up: easy, short-term planks aren’t the type that are going to provide you with much strength improvement.
What is a plank?
A plank is a simple, but effective core exercise that helps you build stability and strength throughout your entire body. The plank is achievable in a number of different methods, but the main goal of the plank exercise will have you with your body perpendicular to the ground, stomach facing down, elevating your torso off the ground with either your elbows or hands.
The plank is similar to being stuck in an extended push-up pose without actually moving your body weight up or down. This may sound much nicer and more forgiving than a set of push-ups, but the plank can become a strenuous exercise very quickly.
The plank is a popular exercise in many exercise routines.
- The plank is a popular pose in many yoga routines – sun salutations, hot yoga routines, and cardio-centric yoga all make use of the plank pose (kumbhakasana.) The pose can be held for several seconds, or used as an intermissive pose that connects two other parts of the routine.
- The plank is used as part of the training regimen for professional boxers, who alternate between sets of pushups, sets of situps, planks, and held crunches, each for decreasing durations that are determined by a timer and ended by the ringing of the coach’s whistle.
- Many professional sports teams, like hockey and football, use the plank as part of their exercise routine because it’s so effective at improving strength in a wide area of muscles in the human body.
What makes the plank so special?
There’s a fair few reasons why the plank is so popular. Some people even consider it their favourite exercise. It’s good to understand why the plank is so important before you start working on the how of doing a good plank, because then you’ll be more likely to keep the plank as a part of your daily routine.
- The plank is a bodyweight exercise . Bodyweight exercises are workouts that you can do with nothing but your own body, which is appealing for a number of reasons.
- You can do bodyweight exercises pretty much anywhere; the most equipment you’ll ever need is a wall to lean on or a chair/bench for bending
- You don’t need to buy expensive equipment to do bodyweight exercises
- Bodyweight exercises are great for your core, and since they rely on your own bodyweight, they’ll be consistently tailored to your own workout needs – as you gain weight, you’ll be working out with more weight, which is similar to increasing the amount you’d bench press, for example.
- The plank works out a tremendous number of muscles in your body, which makes them appealing for all sorts of training – strength, endurance, you name it. Planks can even be a benefit for those wanting to do cardio training.
- Planks can be performed by people of pretty much energy age, as long as they’re still physically fit. Kids can start out doing planks and if they continue to do so, they will be able to continue the exercise into old age.
How do I do a plank?
Later in this article, we’ll discuss some variations of the plank exercise – there’s definitely more than one way you can perform this versatile exercise. For simplicity’s sake, though, it’s a good idea that you understand how to do a basic plank before reading much further into the article.
To do a high plank, also known as a front plank, the most common variety, simply arrange yourself as if you were doing a push-up. Rise to the top of this position, making sure your back is completely straight, and hold the position here.
- Make sure your elbows are directly under your shoulders.
- Line your wrists up with your elbows.
- Push your body upwards, and keep your chin tight(ish) to your neck. There should be a bit of space, perhaps a couple issues.
A recommended time for beginners is 30 seconds, but if you can’t do that, you can consider anything less to be good practice – or switch to a forearm plank, where you rest your weight on your forearms instead of your palms, allowing you to hold the position for much longer.
- Make sure you keep your chest and abs taut for the duration of your plank. This allows you to understand how your core muscles work together, and also ensures proper balance
- Make sure you keep your thighs activated – this is another important part to maintaining balance during a plank.
- Your body should look like a straight line (save for natural contours) for the duration of your plank.
- Rest for a minute or so between planks, and repeat the exercise at least three times.
What are the health benefits of doing planks?
Here’s where things get really interesting. The plank is such a versatile exercise that most people don’t understand everything that they can do for our bodies, aside from knowing that they’re very good for us.
Fortunately, the plank targets almost every group of muscles in our body. This means that adding planks to your workout regimen will make your entire body stronger. There’s more than that, though – planks don’t just improve muscle mass. They improve the strength of our skeletal system, they improve our ability to focus and concentrate, and even help us breathe properly.
Let’s look a little more in-depth at some of the wild health benefits you will see if you start doing planks on the regular.
Planks are one of the best core exercises
It’s debatable as to whether or not an exercise regime consisting solely of planks would give you a six-pack by itself. The odds are pretty slim, and the amount of planking you would have to do would be absolutely ridiculous, but including a plank as part of a varied routine shows some immense benefits.
Planks go best when mixed with an assortment of cardio and strength training exercises, and they show this by improving the benefits that you reap from each individual exercise and type of training you do.
Some of the most important groups of muscles that are targeted by the plank are:
- The transversus abdominis, which is a set of core muscles that ultimately lays the foundation that enables you to develop your abs. The transversus abdominus must first be trained for you to build and develop your rectus abdominis, which is the front area that most people shooting for a six-pack are observing when they’re looking in the mirror.
- The rectus abdominus helps greatly improve sports performance and your ability to jump high.
- Your oblique muscles are responsible for your ability to bend sideways and twist your waist, and are often underlooked during exercise routines
- Your glutes are what help support your back and help to provide the often-desired shape of your backside.
Your core is crucial for helping keep your spine in alignment, as well as maintaining strength in the rest of your back. Core strength helps keep you safe from strain injuries.
The core must be trained on a regular basis, and a lot of people don’t know this. Doing too many exercises that target specific muscle groups – weight training, for example – neglects the core and can lead to disproportionate strength and injuries later in life. Planks are a great way to maintain strength in the core.
Conclusion: Planks are a very versatile exercise that target a lot of the most important muscle groups in the body. The core muscle groups are responsible in some way for helping us carry ourselves through almost every action we’ll perform in a day, so making sure your core strength is in check is absolutely vital for someone who wants to leave a healthy lifestyle.
2. Planks will improve your posture
Planks are able to improve your posture , which is incredibly important for a number of things.
- Good posture prevents your body from developing injuries by improper weight distribution, which can affect everything from major exercise routines to small movements like bending over.
- Proper posture displays confidence and self-assurance, which can be very attractive for people hoping to appeal to the opposite (or same) gender
Since planks work your core, that means they work basically the whole body, from your pelvic girdle to your shoulder girdle as well as your legs.
The plank strengthens your spine, your rhomboids and trapezius, and your abdominal muscles, which naturally result in a strong posture as they grow in strength.
Developing your posture can improve on a number of ailments, and prevent the onset of other ones.
- Good posture means you’re keeping your bones aligned. This means that you’ll lower the risk of skeletal injuries, you’ll be able to lift more, and your body will put less strain on your joints and bones to prevent the development of diseases like arthritis.
- Improving your posture means that you’ll position your internal organs better, which can nullify any digestive issues or other functional problems that may have been caused by your internal organs being forced out of their natural position by bad posture.
- Good posture increases your height, making you appear lean and actually increasing your height a bit; these bonuses come without an increase to weight (though this may naturally come as you continue working out.)
Conclusion: A lot of people don’t put a lot of thought into their posture – in fact, many aren’t even taught how to stand properly. Fortunately, even for those who aren’t educated about posture, the plank will improve this. Having strong core muscles naturally improves your posture, since these muscles are what help your body hold its own weight and carry itself with proper balance. Planks target almost all the areas that are responsible for good posture, effectively improving it.
3. Planks help get rid of back pain
This benefit is partially due to the improved posture that planks provide, but the significance of the plank’s ability to affect back pain deserves a section of its own. The plank doesn’t just inhibit certain types of back pain but enhances the health of the back as a whole.
The improved posture alone helps to align the vertebrae, which takes off unnecessary stress in the spinal region. This also helps to arrange the ligaments in the back properly, which further prevents painful back conditions.
Planks help you build up the muscles in your abdomen, which allows further support of your posture. Having strong abdominal muscles also means that your body feels less of your weight – remember, you’re holding up hundreds) of pounds every second you’re standing, and all this strain comes back on your bones, joints, and muscles. Strong abdominals take a lot of this stress off your back (this is part of the reason that waist-straps are so helpful when carrying heavy backpacks!)
Having strong abs and sitting or standing up straight prevents several unpleasant things from happening.
- Osteoarthritis, a degenerative condition related to the joints in your body, is less likely to develop with proper posture
- As you age, your body naturally loses some of its mobility. Having proper posture and strong core muscles helps to prevent this from happening too quickly.
- Neck and shoulder pain can also be caused by improper posture or by straining the muscles in your core, so keeping them strong is a key way to avoid unwanted injuries of these areas.
Conclusion: Planks are great for people who are currently in pain, or who don’t want to encourage the onset of chronic pain conditions like osteoarthritis. Planks strengthen a lot of muscle groups, as well as the skeletal system, in ways that allow your body to better compose itself. Having a body that properly maintains and composes itself means that you’ll be less at risk of developing degenerative diseases, and can likely offset the onset of pain in old age.
4. You’ll become better coordinated
One of the best benefits of planking doesn’t come from actual muscle growth, but from its ability to help you train your muscles to be more stable.
The body uses its core muscles to help maintain balance. This is obvious when you’re running, biking, exercising in any way – or during active leisure activities like dancing. Many people think that their extremities are responsible for their balance, and they are, in part – but the majority of your stabilization comes from your core.
Having a strong core helps you avoid injuries that could be caused to single muscle groups that might be over exerted by trying to maintain balance during aggressive exercise. For example, snowboarding relies heavily on the calves for balance, and having a strong core can reduce some of this strain.
Strengthening your core also teaches you how your body and muscles work together, and can help improve your ability to work as a single unit instead of trying to control a bunch of different muscle groups simultaneously.
Planks also help build endurance of these muscle groups, so you’re able to maintain balance in physically exhausting situations for longer times.
Performing endurance feats like planking also carry with them a very trying mental aspect. Many people say that half of a workout is in your mind, and the plank is great proof of this – many people can hold a plank for much longer than they believe that they can, but they give up too soon. Doing regular plank training, and continuing to motivate yourself to hold a full plank, can have incredible benefits for your focus and concentration.
If you’re able to hold focus during an intense exercise like a plank, imagine how easy it will be for you to focus on other tasks!
Conclusion: Planks aren’t just useful for building the strength and endurance of your body. They work a set of core muscles that are responsible for the way your body carries itself – meaning that doing planking enhances your ability to support your own weight. Doing so improves your ability to move,a nd you will find yourself more nimble, agile, and coordinated if you do planking on the regular.
5. Planks improve your flexibility
Unlike some exercises that simply improve the strength of your muscles, planks offer a versatile range of benefits – not the least of which is improving your flexibility.
Planks make your posterior muscle groups – not just your glutes, but all of the muscle groups in the back of your body -much more flexible. These include the muscles around your shoulders and your collarbone area, and your shoulder blades themselves. These muscle areas will grow and stretch with continued planking, which is great because these areas are often neglected during many traditional exercise routines.
The plank is an important pose in many yoga routines. Yoga is a great form of exercise for people hoping to build core strength and improve flexibility, the the plank being considered a core element of many yoga training routines indicates just how beneficial it can be not just for your core, but for your flexibility as well.
Side planks, a variation we will discuss later, allow you to stretch out your sides, improving flexibility from the hip area.
A tip for enhancing the flexibility bonus you’ll gain from planking is to do a rocking plank, again, discussed in detail later. Once you’re in the plank pose, rock your body back and forth by moving your toes a little bit in either direction.
Conclusion: Adding planks to your regular exercise routine means that you’ll not only build core strength, but you’ll improve your body’s flexibility as well. Different variations of the plank can enhance the flexibility of different areas in more effective manners, and combining the plank with other exercise like yoga, its benefits become more pronounced.
6. Planking will improve your metabolism
Planking burns more calories, when done every day, than other core exercises like situps.
More importantly, planks help strengthen massive muscle groups in your body. Having strong muscles means you burn more calories, even when you’re at rest.
This makes planks crucial for people who work in offices or other jobs that aren’t very active. If you have good, strong muscles on your body, you will be able to burn calories more effectively and be less at risk for gaining extra weight.
On top of that, having strong muscles means you burn even more calories when you’re exercising, even if this exercise is simply walking to work or school in the mornings. It also means that you’ll burn more calories in your sleep!
The other side of this benefit is that, since you’ll be burning more calories, you’ll feel hungry a lot more often. This can be a great opportunity for you to begin eating a healthy diet – since you’ll be hungry for more calories, you can eat more, and if you’re deciding to eat nothing but healthy food, you’ll begin to reap the benefits of a healthy diet in no time.
A lot of folk consider being hungry all the time to be a terrible affliction because it means that they’ll gain weight. This can be true, but it only becomes a problem if the individual has a bad diet. Eating lots of food can be great for you, and if you’re exercising and eating a good diet, you’ll become much healthier.
Conclusion: Planks are great for improving your body’s metabolism by building your core muscle groups, which are some of the largest in the body. Having healthy, strong muscles means that your body is constantly burning more energy, and in turn, it becomes less able to store calories in the form of fat.
7. Your mood will improve
What? Planks can even have benefits on your state of mind?
Absolutely. A lot of the groups that planks target are groups of muscles that are frequently strained and knotted, and contribute massively to stress in the human body. Knowing that your body’s physically stressed can be draining to your mental state.
Tension in certain parts of your body, like your legs, can lead to more tension in other parts of your body due to your natural need to compensate – if your legs are tense, you will try to put less weight on them, which could strain your back.
All of these worries and stressors can compound into a form of anxiety, or vice-versa – having a lot of stress and worry on your mind can lead to your body undergoing a psychosomatic response (a physical response caused by a mental process) which could cause your muscles to tense up. These types of muscle stress are often eliminated with things like massage.
Fortunately, planking can eliminate the physical stressors in this case, which can help to ease your state of mind. No longer will you have to worry about work causing your body strain if you’re strong enough to handle it!
Additionally, all forms of exercise cause a release of endorphins – your body’s feel good chemicals. Many doctors recommend a regular form of exercise instead of trying prescription medication right away, because its effects can be immediate and extremely powerful.
Conclusion: Planks aren’t just good for strengthening your body – they can help you improve your mindstate. Planks are great for targeting groups of muscles that commonly strain people, which helps eliminate related anxiety and worry. Additionally, all forms of exercise – the plank included – can help to reduce anxiety and depression.
Different variations on the plank
The plank is versatile, not just in the benefits it provides for your body, but in the number of different ways you can perform the exercise. Each different method provides better benefits for different areas of the body, and all can be substituted on different days of your exercise routine.
A couple tips that can be applied to most plank exercise:
- During plank position, pull your bellybutton in. Your bellybutton is connected to your transverse abdominis, one of the main core groups of muscles that are necessary for many bodily functions. Pulling your belly button it helps to flex your T.A. muscles, providing a harder workout and more results.
- To work your rectus abdominis – the ‘six pack’ muscles – then try and pull your chin down towards your feet while you’re continuing to squeeze your belly button.
- Squeezing your kegel muscle functions in a similar way as flexing your belly button. Kegel squeezes involve drawing your pelvic muscles up, an exercise that’s commonly practiced by certain people hoping to improve their sexual health. Kegel squeezes can be tricky to do at first – for men, they should squeeze the same muscle that’s used when they would stop themselves from urinating in the middle of doing so.
Front, side, reverse planks
The ‘regular’ plank exercise can be done facing the front, side, and reverse, with each direction activating and training different muscle groups.
- Front planks – the standard plank – help strengthen the upper and lower body
- Side planking is very good for training your obliques and providing stabilization to your spine
- Side planks are performed by first lying down on your side. Start with your right side, making sure your legs are straight.
- Raise yourself up on your right forearm,making sure your body stays straight – it should look like a diagonal line that goes from your head to your feet.
- Make sure your hips and knees are both elevated off the ground.
- If you need to, you can rest your left hand on the floor to help stabilize yourself.
- Reverse planks are great for improving your glutes and your lower body, particularly your hamstrings and lower back.
- Sit on the ground with your legs straight out to the front.
- Put your hands, palm-down, on the floor below your shoulders.
- Flex your butt and your thighs, then push your body upwards – you’ll be in a reverse plank.
- If you need extra support you can start with your elbows on the floor instead of your hands.
- Ensure your body, as always, maintains a straight line
2. The 2-minute plank test
This plank isn’t terribly different than the regular variation, but it’s a good test of your physical fitness and endurance.
Try and hold a plank for two minutes. If you can’t do this, or you experience pain during the attempt, then you know that your core muscles aren’t at the point that you want them to be.
This could also indicate that you’re carrying too much body weight and need to switch up and do some cardio.
3. Arm or leg lift planks
These planks put a lot more strain on your muscles, meaning that you’ll gain a lot more strength and endurance from practicing them. Arm and leg lift planksare a great addition to an exercise routine and can be switched out for, or supplement, regular planks.
Simply lift an arm or a leg when you’re in a standard, forward plank position. This helps to target your upper back, chest, and your core. Using your leg will work out your sides and glutes more; lifting an arm will improve benefits to your shoulder.
4. Side plank crunch
This is an exciting twist that blends two popular exercises – the plank and the crunch.
Get into side plank position, lying on the floor sideways with your right hand beneath your shoulder. Making sure the inside of your opposite foot is resting on the floor in front of your other one.
Tighten your abs and push into your right hand , forming a diagonal from head to toes. Crunch forward and down, trying to bring your left elbow to your right, then return to starting position and try to do this ten times. Switch sides when you’re done and repeat.
5. Resistance plank
Adding a resistance band to your plank will increase the benefits to your core, shoulders, and even improve the flexibility bonus you’ll get in your hamstrings.
Put the band around your wrists and/or your ankles, then get into a standard high plank position (where you’re at the top of a standard pushup, holding the position.)
Move your left hand out a few inches and notice the added strain on your muscles, then return to original position. Repeat on opposite sites – each time you have worked each side of your body, you have finished a single rep. Shoot for ten when you’re just starting out.
Cautions for people interested in planking
While planking is an amazing exercise, it’s important that you take caution planking journal before jumping into a routine filled with planking. Like anything, excessive use of this exercise, or improper execution, can lead to some unpleasant issues.
- If you feel any pain, particularly in your neck or lower back, this could indicate that you aren’t strong enough to be exerting as much effort as you area. This could lead to compressed vertebrae or too much pressure on your spine.
- It can be smart to start doing the plank for only a few seconds at a time, to assure yourself that you don’t have any injuries that would be exacerbated by doing the exercise.
- Make sure you don’t let your hips, head, or shoulders sag! This improper form of execution can lead to a whole lot of injuries in the muscle groups you’re trying to strengthen.
- Don’t put your hands too close together – this can throw off your balance, and tends to create improper stability that remains with the user
- Don’t hold your breath. Planks can be held for a long time, and going this long without oxygen can be unhealthy for your brain. Besides, you need a constant flow of oxygen to exercise properly.
- Don’t hold a plank for too long – if you’re finding that you can hold planks fora very long time, flex your abs or belly button, or try a harder variation.
Even for those who execute the plank perfectly, there are some things you should be aware of lest you find injury.
- If you have existing back pain – strained muscles or injured discs in your vertebrae – you might want to consider doing a routine with crunches instead of planks. Crunches are also reputed for their ability to build core strength, but they don’t flex the spine.
- You should see a physician before starting any exercise routine to asses your current state of physical health. Your doctor can inform you if there’s any precautions you should take before you start exercising.
The plank is a fantastic, simple exercise that can be learned by anyone and should be an integral part of everyone’s exercise routine.
The plank has a large number of different benefits, and since the exercise targets your core muscles in such an extravagant fashion, these benefits can span your entire body. Your muscles, your skeletal system, and even your organs can be positively impacted by regular use of the plank.
While there are some precautions to be taken regarding the plank and its many varieties, it’s more likely that you’ll reap benefits from doing this exercise instead of being in danger. Hopefully you can quickly appreciate how amazing this exercise is for you!
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