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How to Do Plank Exercises

By Lisa M. Wolfe

Planks require intense muscle contractions to support your body weight in a static position. The stationary plank resembles the upper phase of a push-up, in which you are on your hands and toes with your body in a straight line. You can also do variations of the plank to reduce or increase the difficulty. The plank’s isometric contraction strengthens your core, glutes and quadriceps; stabilizes your back-supporting muscles, such as your erector spinae; and relies on assistance from your pectorals, obliques and deltoids.

Workout Guidelines

Include planks in your workouts during your abdominal-strengthening routine. You can choose to substitute sit-ups or crunches with planks or add planks to your existing exercise list. If you are only doing core exercises, warm up with three to five minutes of full-body movements prior to performing planks. If you do planks at the end of your cardiovascular or strength-training routine, you do not need the separate warm up. When doing planks, regardless of which pose you use, keep your spine in a straight line to improve posture and reduce lower-back discomfort. Aim to maintain planks for 30 seconds, but decrease the duration or select an easier plank, if your form suffers. Increase the duration or change to an advanced plank if you do not feel muscle fatigue within 30 seconds.

Basic Plank

To begin, use the safest, most supportive plank pose -- on your knees and forearms. Kneel and then lean forward to rest your elbows and forearms on the floor. Your elbows should be directly under your shoulders and at a distance from your knees that places your hips low toward the floor. You should feel as if someone could set a glass of water on your back and it wouldn’t spill. Breathe normally as you maintain the plank for your desired duration. Rest and repeat as needed.

Less Intense Planks

If the basic plank is too difficult, modify your position to decrease the workload. You can accomplish this by resting your upper body on a chair or weight bench. For example, rest your forearms on a flat bench and straighten your legs behind you. Rest your knees or toes on the floor. Lower your hips until your spine is straight. For an even easier option, stand with your forearms against a wall and walk your feet backward until you are leaning into the wall. Press your hips forward to maintain a straight spine.

Advanced Poses

If the beginner plank is too easy and you are able to maintain the position for at least 30 seconds, select an advanced pose. You can increase the plank’s challenge by straightening your legs and supporting your weight on your toes with your feet close together. Next, straighten your arms and press your palms into the floor. As your core continues to strengthen and you require more intensity, add movement to your planks. For example, perform mountain climbers from a hands-and-toes-supported plank. Bend your right knee and place your right foot on the floor below your hips. Then, quickly switch feet so your left foot is below you and your right foot in the starting position. Repeat for five to 10 repetitions.

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