You're not planking properly until you've tried this.
The world record for the longest Plank is five hours. That's extremely mentally challenging and an impressive milestone. If you're an athlete, don't try to break the record. Why train harder when you can attain better results by training smarter? As a strength coach in Santa Monica, California, I see a lot of athletes performing this exercise improperly. In my opinion, the standard Plank is a pointless exercise. When do you ever need to engage your core for that long? Never.
To make the Plank more applicable to your sport, here are three critical things to remember when performing this classic exercise.
What to Do
1. Engage your core
The word "core" is a defined many different ways. Here, I'm using it to refer to the anterior (front of the body) core musculature (rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis). To maximize engagement of the core, pretend there is a string attached from your navel to your spinal column. Shorten the string by pulling both ends toward each other. Another helpful pointer is to pull your abs away from your shirt.
2. Turn on your glutes
Glute amnesia, a term made popular by Dr. Stuart McGill, is commonly seen today due to lack of activity. In order to stabilize the pelvis, the glutes need to be contracted. The glutes are responsible for five main things: internal rotation, external rotation, extension, abduction and posteriorly tilting the pelvis. That last one is seen when you "tuck your butt under," or as we say at Show Up Fitness, "eat your shorts." Another helpful pointer: pretend that you've got a $100 bill between your cheeks. Squeeze that bill and don't let anyone try to take it from you.
3. Engage your back
The latissimus dorsi (lats) are large muscles that expand across the posterior chain. They are difficult to engage if you don't know how to contract them. To maximize engagement of this muscle, you need to internally rotate, extend and adduct your humerus. This can be done by pretending to smash an egg in your armpit, or doing the infamous Chicken Dance.
While in the plank position, squeeze a yoga pad or pillow between your thighs and draw your elbows toward your knees. Aim for 10 to 15 seconds of maximal contraction, making sure to maintain the three checkpoints.
What to Avoid
1. Holding your hands / prayer position
This causes internal rotation at the shoulder. The average person is already rounded at the shoulders, so practice maintaining a proud chest.
2. Arching your back
Too much of an arch, or rounding, can wreak havoc on your low back. Try to maintain a slightly posteriorly titled low back.
3. Flexing your neck
Pretend you're holding a tennis ball under your chin.
4. Holding too long
If you can hold a Plank longer than 20 seconds, revisit the check points, because you're probably doing it improperly.
Perform 3 to 5 sets of this new style of Plank, resting 10-15 seconds between sets. Do them every day and watch your performance take off.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock