Another Tuesday is here and that brings us another edition of Technique Tuesday. As many of you who have been following me know, the idea behind this recurring theme is to break down a different commonly used exercise each week, and in so doing, review the benefits of the exercise, what proper technique looks like, and how to program the exercise into your workouts correctly to maximize the benefits of the exercise.

Today’s post will be breaking down the plank, and more specifically, the low plank variation (on your elbows). Like most of the exercises I go over, this is one that most people think they’ve got down pat, only to realize when shown that they are way way off. My goal is to make sure you’re not one of those people, and if you are, help correct the mistakes so you too can be a total Rockstar!

As with any exercise I go over, if you are in serious pain when performing this exercise and are using solid technique, please go seek a qualified medical opinion. Remember folks, working out should not create new pains for you (outside of a little muscle soreness).

What is does for you:

    - Helps teach how to create spinal stability

    - Forces us to create tension in our abs (it makes them work)

    - Teaches people how to maintain a neutral pelvic position under load

There is a much longer list of things the plank does, but if I were to write down all the benefits, well, you’d be too tired from reading that list to finish the rest of my article. I would imagine that many of you reading this have probably performed 1 or 2 planks in your lifetime and have probably felt the benefits of them first hand. Needless to say, it can be an incredibly helpful exercise when performed and utilized correctly.

How to perform the exercise correctly:

    I think most people understand the basic set up of the plank, and what it should ideally look like, but have a hard time getting into the correct position (though they generally think they’re there) because they’re not sure what to do to get their body feeling what it should feel.

    I think most people understand that they should feel this exercise mainly in their abs, but generally when I ask someone whom I’ve never worked with before, where they feel this exercise first, it’s usually 1.) their shoulders or 2.) their lower back. Sound familiar?

    I’ll also on occasion see people rounding the upper part of their back like crazy, to the point where their spine is beginning to look like a question mark. This is not gonna do you any favors.

    To set yourself up correctly for a low plank, you want to dig your toes into the ground as much as possible so you feel quite a bit of tension running all the way up your lower body. Prop yourself up onto your elbows and hold the rest of your body up so that you are parallel to the ground. Simple right?

    Not so fast! Once you’re in position, I want you to do a few more things:

1.) Squeeze your glutes! This will help you find your neutral pelvic position.

2.) Make sure that your elbows are directly underneath your shoulders or slightly in front of them. This will keep the pressure of the anterior deltoids (the front of your shoulders) helping to keep them from burning out, and put the pressure back on to your abs.

3.) Get your hands apart from one another and in line with your elbows (stop grabbing your hands and interlocking your fingers). Again this will help with giving your shoulders a break. Chances are your shoulders probably spend enough time in internal rotation, we don’t need them hanging out there even more. This along with our next cue should also help with your upper back positioning.


4.) Get long through your spine and neck, and look down at the ground about wrist height. Stop looking down at your, elbows or toes, and stop looking forward. Both of those head positions will cause you to put more stress than needed on your upper traps, and if you’re looking down at your toes, probably round your upper back putting you into a kyphotic position. Look at the ground about wrist height and keep your shoulders as far from your ears as possible.

In the image to the left, you'll notice the guy in the photo is doing most of what I mentioned not to do. He's up on his tip toes as opposed to digging them into the ground which is going to make it much harder for him to squeeze his glutes. As a result you'll notice his excessive arch in the lumbar spine. He's also got his hands together, head up looking forward, and upper back rounded. You can probably understand why I used the description of the spine looking like a question mark when done incorrectly.

These few cues should help to clean up your plank and ideally get your plank looking like this:
Notice the toes dug into the ground, elbows under the shoulders, hands apart, and neutral spine, head, and pelvic position. That's how it should look.

How to incorporate this exercise into your program:

Working the plank into your routine can be different for each trainee depending on their fitness levels.

For my novice trainees that can get into the correct position successfully, but need some serious work on “core” strength I like to work this into their workouts multiple times through the week. Frequency with exercises for new trainees is vital. The more experience they can get with each exercise and doing it successfully, the bigger the payoff is at first. The plank is no different.

For some of my more beginner to intermediate level clients, I’ll often times work in the low plank between sets of other exercises where spinal stability is vital to success. Examples of this would be performing it between sets of deadlifts (and other variations of it), Squats, Chin-Ups, and Glute Bridges/Hip Thrusts.

As my clients advance throughout their programs, I’ll often incorporate other variations of this or add loads to the exercise for a new challenge, but the goal stays the same: maintain their spinal position and isometric contraction.



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