Accelerate Physical Therapy

How Planks can Improve Your Core Strength

If you are looking to strengthen your core, then you may want to consider planks. Or, perhaps your physical therapist or trainer may have mentioned them, and you want to know what you will be getting yourself into with this form of exercise.

Often incorporated into yoga and Pilates, planks are a great option for strengthening your core, which include the abs, back, pelvic and hip muscles. It’s not intended to create the often sought-after 6 pack effect. But, when done properly they will provide more stability and balance in the core area. In turn, it can help prevent future injury, as well as improve your posture…making it a popular choice for sports medicine.

Planking is also referred to as a hover, abdominal bridge, or a front hold…lending an indirect and brief description of what to expect in this exercise. It involves getting into a challenging position and maintaining it for a short period of time. Your trainer or physical therapist can help guide you in how long to attempt the hold, especially when first starting out.

Perhaps the more common plank is a “front” plank, similar to holding a push up, with the weight of your body resting on the elbows, forearms, and toes. However, there are many variations with planking, which will be discussed later in the article. First, let’s take a look at the specific muscles that are targeted with planking.

The Targeted Muscles

Planking will help strengthen muscles within the abdominal wall, shoulders, hips, and back areas. The variation of the plank will determine which muscles will receive the most benefit. For example, with the front plank, the primary muscles include the rectus abdominis, traverse abdominus, and erector spinae, while secondary muscles such as the trapezius, rotator cuff, rhomboids, deltoids, pectorals, glutes, and quads are also worked.

However, with a side plank, the primary muscles worked include the adductors, and obliques, along with the transversus abdominis, while secondary would include the hamstrings, glutes, and quads.

Now that you know what muscles planking will benefit, let’s take a look at some variations of planking you can look forward to…

Variations of the Plank

There is more than one way to perform a plank. And each will target muscles for optimum strengthening in your core. Take a look at the more common variations…

The Basic:

  • Lay down on the floor, with the forearms and toes resting on the floor
  • Raise your entire body, keeping the torso straight and rigid
  • Keep your neck straight by looking at the floor
  • Hold the position for about 10 seconds to start, building up endurance by 10 second increments

Leg Lift Plank:

  • Begin this in the basic plank position described above
  • Slowly lift your leg, about 5-8” off the floor
  • Hold this position for about 2 seconds, and carefully lower your leg back down
  • Repeat this with the opposite leg
  • Perform approximately 2 or 3 sets of 10 lifts each time

Arm Lift Plank:

  • Start with the basic plank position
  • Slowly and carefully shift your body weight onto one forearm
  • Raise the opposite arm straight in front of you
  • Hold this position for about 2 seconds
  • Carefully go back to the starting position
  • Repeat this with the other arm
  • Perform these for 2 to 3 sets of 10 lifts each time

The key to performing planks with the most positive impact for your core is to keep your core tight and straight throughout the entire process, as if you are providing a plank for someone to walk. If your body is sagging, it’s not going to have the same impact, and can actually put you at risk for injury.

It’s possible to do planks on your hands, rather than the elbows, if that is easier for you. But, as with any exercise, don’t overdo it. Work up to your desired number of repetitions if necessary, and stick to just the basic plank until you are comfortable with it.

If this is still not going well for you, talk to your physical therapist or trainer to see if they have any recommended variations you can try. While this might look like an easy exercise, it is not. So, don’t get discouraged if you have difficulty with them. Just be patient, and reasonable.