Most of us are familiar with the core exercise known as The Plank. For those who aren’t, it involves holding a position that is very similar to a push-up except that your elbows are on the floor.
For the exercise novice it can be a relatively challenging position to maintain (once it is performed correctly, but more on that later), however many trainees will find that they are able to last for a couple of minutes or even longer. If this is the case for you, then you may want to consider how you can make the plank more difficult in order to continue reaping its’ benefits; specifically, a stronger core and better trunk stability.
But first; a note on technique. I see the plank being butchered by people all the time, and if it’s performed incorrectly it can actually be very tough on the lower back. The most important thing to get right is to keep a neutral spine, in other words to not allow your lower back to arch excessively (see below for an example of an excessive lower back arch).
Your bum should be squeezed and you should have your hips about the same height as your shoulders and knees. If you feel your lower back tightening during a plank you are almost certainly performing it incorrectly. A proper plank should mean a flat back, a neutral head and hips in line with the rest of the body, like this:
There are many different variations of the position that will make them more challenging (ie more fun!), but I am going to describe two of my favourites here. Give them a try and see how you find them.
1. The Front Leaning Rest (FLR).
This variation involves what looks like a normal push-up position, at least as far as the upper body is concerned. The difference is that you are going to push yourself forward so that your toes are pointed, the top of your toes will be on the floor instead of the balls of your feet, and almost all the weight of your body is off your legs and instead is on your torso (see below). You will want to maintain a neutral head and lower back as previously mentioned. If it is done right it will be significantly more difficult than a regular plank (you can even perform it with your hands on TRX handles or gymnastic rings that are suspended a few centimetres off the ground, but do be careful if you try this as it can be a very unstable position).
I would suggest 2-3 sets of around 15-30 seconds each and increase from there.
2. The Hardstyle Plank
This variation is all about tension. It is all too easy to be very relaxed while performing a traditional plank, which is often why people can last so long while doing it. The Hardstyle version should be so difficult that you will need to stop after just a few seconds!
It involves beginning in a normal plank, and then moving your elbows a few centimetres forward (see below)
Once you are in the this position, immediately squeeze your whole body tight by attempting to drive your elbows back down toward your feet as hard as you possibly can. Your body should be trembling after about 10 seconds or you are not squeezing hard enough. As before, it is vital not to allow your lower back to over-arch (hyperextension).
3-5 reps of 5-15 seconds will almost certainly be sufficient here.
So if your core strength is at a level where the traditional plank is no longer a challenge, you can stop going through the motions and give these two exercises a whirl. Best of luck!