The Perfect Plank
Ask any exercise physiologist this question: if you could only do ONE exercise for a year, what would it be? Resoundingly, they would answer PUSH UPS.The foundational exercise for the Push Up is the Plank, arguably one of the most important core strength and stabilizing exercises to master. Push Ups are the addition of movement to this important core foundation.
Every joint has something to do. Incorporate these details; start with the feet and move up the chain:
- Strong feet: push back through your heels, keep feet straight (do not let your ankles splay apart).
- Muscles around knees tight and engaged.
- Glutes engaged. For most people, a slight tuck of the pelvis will aid in keeping the low back from buckling in; until really good core strength is established, the tuck is an important detail. Tucking your pelvis is code for squeezing your glutes, but the squeeze is in such a way that something happens besides just tightening them; as your pelvis tucks, it has the effect of slightly flattening the low back. If the low back arches/curves more, you have gone the wrong way. Do not exaggerate the tuck, a slight tuck is sufficient.
- Pull navel up and in. As you breathe, check that it is staying up and in.
- Ribs should feel like they are wrapping around your trunk hugging you.
- Press your shoulders down and away from your neck; as you do your shoulder blades will draw down your back. As this happens, re-engage your ribs and wrap them tight around the upper abdominal area of your front body trunk. This will engage the serratus anterior and the lats improving strong core stability.
- Whether you choose a forearm plank or a plank from the hands is up to you. In either option, the energy of the hands or forearms should be drawing toward your feet. If you are on your forearms, it should feel like you are trying to slide them on the floor toward your feet; have the same feeling of energy if your base of support is your hands. It goes without saying that a plank from your forearms will not turn into a push up, so practice both options if you prefer the forearm plank.
- When planking on your hands, feel the floor through all 5 of your fingers, centering your weight through your entire hand. There should feel like there is dynamic energy through your fingertips.
- Your back body neck muscles should feel strong, holding the head in alignment with the rest of the spine; your gaze will be in front of you at the floor.
- The “look” of the plank should be straight and strong. The glutes should look tight. Your head should be in line with the spine. If you look at the area between the ribs and the pubic bone – the abdominal area – It should be pulled up and should stay up as you breathe. If you look at the quads above the knees, they should be tightened and the kneecaps should be pulled up toward the thighs. If you were to sit on their low back (don’t really do this!) it would be strong and stable: it would not buckle in.
As you master each piece of a plank, it now might be obvious why exercise physiologists would choose Push Ups as the ‘One’ most important exercise. Everything is engaged: quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, abs, lats, pecs, shoulders, tri’s and bi’s, hands and feet and everything in between.
PLANK CLIFFNOTES VERSION:
- Don’t sag your butt: engage your glutes to avoid buckling in at the low back.
- Wrap your ribs around your torso; drawing shoulder blades down your back.
- Tighten up your abs as if someone was going to punch you in the gut.
- Tighten up your quads to make your legs strong while you plank.
- Engage your neck to keep the head from sagging.
Now that you have your foundation, add movement! Be creative!
- Basic Push up: palms turned out slightly (about 20-30 degrees), as elbows bend, they will point back and out.
- Triceps-focused push up: Hands close to your body, elbows point to the feet as you bend them to move down and back up.
- Lift a leg while planking or during Push Ups.
- Tuck a leg, take your knee to your armpit, abduct your leg from your center, etc.
- Plank with one arm lift (try and hold the plank very quiet, no shifting or tipping)
- Plank with one arm and opposite leg lift (try not to move the foundation/body when you do this)
- Plank or Push Up while lifting a leg diagonally
- Plank with opposite arm and leg diagonally moving while keeping the body quiet.
- Plank with your hands on weights then add a row or a row with a tricep kick back.
It is easy to go crazy with all the options, but don’t forget the staple: PLANKS and PUSH UPS.