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Plank Exercises: The Best Variations to Activate Your Core

plank-exercises-to-activate-your-core
Everyone wants a strong, healthy core. We know that the secret to a strong, healthy core is through <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/"><strong>eating well</strong></a> and doing core exercises when we workout. And when people think about building strong abdominal muscles, they think sit-ups and crunches are the best options. Sit-ups and crunches might be okay, but for people with neck or lower <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/two-exercises-to-fix-back-pain"><strong>back pain</strong></a>, they aren’t. What if we told you there’s a better exercise for training your core? And what if we said that no matter what your current fitness level is, there’s a variation or level you can start using right now? There is: the plank! In this article, we’ll look at what planks are, the benefits of adding planks to your workouts, and five variations of planks you can do at home. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">What Is a Plank?</p></h4> Planks—and plank variations—are an <i>isometric</i> core exercise. The word ‘isometric’ means that your muscles are working but they aren’t actually moving (like with a <a target="_blank" href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUT0f9P7GpQ&t=208s"><strong>squat or push-up</strong></a>). Instead, they work together to stabilize your body and hold the position. In this case, the plank position. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">The Benefits of Planks</p></h4> Planks improve your posture and increase flexibility in the hamstrings and feet<sup>2</sup>. They also increase strength and stability in several muscle groups (see next section). One major benefit to planks is that they are very easily modifiable based on fitness level, previous injuries, or other limitations. And they are less likely to bother your neck or lower back than other core exercises like sit-ups or crunches. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">What Muscles Do Planks Work?</p></h4> Planks are a <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/the-best-full-body-workout-for-weight-loss"><strong>full-body exercise</strong></a><sup>1</sup>. They primarily train the muscles in your abs, hips, and lower back, but also require force from your shoulders and legs as well. The muscles worked during planks are your abdominals, obliques (your sides), erector spinae, serratus, rhomboids (back muscles), glutes, and your hips. Side planks (seen later in this article) make your obliques work harder than a regular plank. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">How Long Should a Beginner Hold a Plank?</p></h4> The short answer: <i>as long as you can with good form</i>! Planks are a fantastic exercise for beginners because they are self-moderating based on your current strength and fitness abilities. Planks are also easy to progress. Simply add a few extra seconds to your set, move from kneeling planks to full planks, or try a new variation like side planks. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">How Many Sets of Planks Should You Do?</p></h4> If you’re just starting out, start with one to three sets of planks during a workout. Rest one to two minutes between sets. Planks won’t make you stronger without good form (described below). Doing too many sets will likely fatigue your muscles and prevent you from holding a perfect plank after three sets. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Should You Do Planks Every Day?</p></h4> You might not want to do planks <i>everyday</i>—your body needs a rest—but, generally speaking, you can do them as often as you like. You can integrate them into your <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/"><strong>at-home workout</strong></a>, but planks are also a good exercise to just do a set of occasionally as well. Try adding a few seconds each time you do a plank set or even do them during the <a target="_blank" href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlKeb8NzZBk"><strong>next TV commercial break</strong></a>! <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">How Do I Do a Plank?</p></h4> Good planks (and their variations) have one thing in common: in the plank position, your body holds a straight line. If your hips begin sagging to the floor (like you’re stretching your lower back) or go high in the air (like a downward dog yoga pose), you are no longer doing a plank. Here are some beginner variations for planks and the correct form for each. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Plank Variations for Beginners</p></h4> <div class="text-left my-5"> <img class="img-fluid w-md-75 image-center" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/media/public/2019/03/kneeling_plank.png" alt="kneeling plank"> </div> <h5><span style="font-size:1.5rem;">1. Kneeling Plank</span></h5> For beginners, the kneeling plank gives you all the benefits of full planks. The only difference is you make more points of contact with the floor to lessen the load: both hands, both elbows, both knees, and both feet. Start by squeezing your glutes and bring your pelvis forward into the ‘hollow’ position. The hollow is seen above—notice how it looks like Coach Tyler is almost slightly hunched over with his lower back. He’s not, but he’s flexing his abs and squeezing his glutes so hard that it looks like he might be. Put your arms on the ground and your elbows below your shoulders. Fight to keep your body in one straight line. Don’t forget: planks strengthen your shoulders, back, and leg muscles, too. Try working up to three sets of thirty seconds doing kneeling planks before progressing to full planks. If the kneeling plank is still too difficult, start by holding a plank position on a chair. <div class="text-left my-5"> <img class="img-fluid w-md-75 image-center" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/media/public/2019/03/full_plank.png" alt="tyler full plank"> </div> <h5><span style="font-size:1.5rem;">2. Full Plank</span></h5> All the muscles from your toes to your nose are working during a full plank. Your shoulders, pectorals (chest), abs, hips, glutes, hamstrings, and even the muscles in your feet all work together to keep you stable. Start on the floor with four points of contact: both forearms and both feet. Squeeze your glutes and flex your belly into the same hollow position as before. Avoid sagging hips or moving into the downward dog yoga pose (where your hips are high and your body looks like a ‘V’). Work up to sets of thirty seconds and beyond. The longer you can hold the plank position, the stronger your core muscles will be! <div class="text-left my-5"> <img class="img-fluid w-md-75 image-center" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/media/public/2019/03/Half_Kneeling_Side_Plank.png" alt="tyler kneel slide plank half"> </div> <h5><span style="font-size:1.5rem;">3. Half Kneeling Side Plank</span></h5> Half kneeling side planks are the first of three side plank progressions. Begin by propping yourself up with your right hand and right knee as points of contact on the floor. Extend your left leg out (as seen above). Your left leg will take some of the load off and make it easier to hold a side plank position. Keep your body in one straight line just like Coach Tyler in the picture. Keep your hips from dropping to the floor as you fatigue. Squeezing your glutes and oblique muscles, hold this position as long as you can. Progress to kneeling side planks when you can do three sets of thirty seconds or more. <div class="text-left my-5"> <img class="img-fluid w-md-75 image-center" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/media/public/2019/03/Kneeling_Side_Plank.png" alt="tyler kneeling side plank"> </div> <h5><span style="font-size:1.5rem;">4. Kneeling Side Plank</span></h5> Kneeling side planks add a second layer of difficulty by adding the weight of your left leg in. The same rules apply: squeeze your glutes, activate your core and shoulder muscles, and hold this position as long as you can with good form. Progress to full side planks when you can do three sets of thirty seconds or more. As you work up to this, combine kneeling side planks with half kneeling side planks (fifteen seconds of each, for example) to help get stronger. <div class="text-left my-5"> <img class="img-fluid w-md-75 image-center" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/media/public/2019/03/Side_Plank.png" alt="tyler full slide plank"> </div> <h5><span style="font-size:1.5rem;">5. Side Plank</span></h5> Full side planks require serious strength and stability in your abs, obliques, and shoulders. Make sure you have your balance before pressing off the floor with your two points of contact (one hand and the outside of your foot). In the beginning, focus on keeping your hips straight. In all likelihood, you’ll be fighting for seconds in this position when you first start. When you can do three sets of thirty seconds, you’ve mastered the side plank! <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Wrapping Up</p></h4> Even though you aren’t moving, planks—and their many variations—are the best exercise out there for building strong, healthy core muscles. Done correctly, planks will strengthen your abs, shoulders, hips, glutes, and back muscles. And the best part is no matter what your current fitness level, there’s a plank variation for you. Try these plank variations on for size for a few weeks and see if you can progress. We know you can! For more at-home workouts and fitness advice, check out <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/"><strong>Warrior Made</strong></a>’s <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/"><strong>exercise articles</strong></a> and <a target="_blank" href="https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZjFDJI4B4l16uujibduMFA/videos"><strong>YouTube page</strong></a>. And don’t forget, abs are made in the kitchen. Check out our <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/"><strong>nutrition section and recipes</strong></a> for tasty, keto-approved recipes! <h5><span style="font-size:1.5rem;">Links:</span></h5> 1. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/plank-exercise-benefits#1">The Worthwhile Benefits of Plank Exercises</a> 2. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/plank-exercise-benefits#4">Planks can help increase your flexibility</a>

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