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Fitness 101: Executing the perfect plank – for beginners

The plank is a simple yet challenging all-over body conditioning and core strengthening exercise. Joanne Miller asked personal trainer Lisa Clayton to demonstrate how to do the plank perfectly.

The plank is a full-body move that engages the transversus abdominus (the “six-pack” abdominals), the erector spinae(muscles running from your lower back to your head) and the large stabilisers found in your hip flexors, thighs and glutes. Regular training and strengthening of these muscles helps with everyday movement and can improve your posture by flattening your stomach and encouraging you to walk taller and sit and stand straighter.

The plank is featured in both yoga and Pilates routines. Its straight-shooting name is something of a giveaway. When you execute it properly, you should resemble, ahem… a wooden plank.

Like the plank, push-ups are effective core-strengtheners that primarily focus on the chest and triceps. The combined plank push-up can help to improve your posture and stability and reduce bingo wings (wobbly upper arms) while lessening your risk of injury during heavy weight training or endurance exercise. 

Step One

 

1. Assume the plank position (Images 1and 1a), straighten your elbows and rest on your hands and toes.

2. Keep your back straight and avoid lifting your hips.

3. Tighten your abdominal muscles and hold the position for as long as possible, ensuring your hands are directly below your shoulders.

4. To prevent injury and maintain good form, you can modify your plank by dropping one knee to the ground if necessary.

Step Two

 

1. Lower yourself into a push-up by bending your elbows to 90 degrees (Image 2).

2. Keep your body straight and abdominals tight (don’t allow your back or stomach to arch or droop).

3. Your elbows should remain close to your sides as you lower yourself.

4. To intensify the move, you can drop down to your knees and perform a push-up from this position.

Step Three

 

1. Breathe out as you lower into a push-up position.

2. Look ahead and lower your body until your chest touches the floor (Image 3).

3. Inhale as you straighten your arms and lift your body to the original full plank position.

4. Pause briefly for one or two seconds.

5. Jump your feet apart and then back together again (Images 4, 5 and 6).

Step Four

 

1. Lower yourself into a push-up position again.

2. Repeat 10 to 15 times or until fatigued.

Timing is Everything

The ability to maintain a well-executed plank varies from person to person. Planks are all about quality over quantity, so take baby steps in order to avoid bruising your lower spine (or ego). Start by maintaining the position for 15 seconds and build from there. After a few attempts, most people can maintain proper form for one minute, and if you incorporate plank sets into your workouts every other day, you’ll soon build phenomenal core strength.

Walk The Plank Although a simple exercise, the plank is often executed incorrectly and attempted at the end of a workout when fatigue has already set in. It’s far more advantageous to your energy stores and endurance to do this move at the start of your workout. Here are some other tips:

Get in line: Failing to keep your elbows in line with your shoulders not only shifts the focus of the exercise, it will positively hurt.
On the straight and narrow: Allowing your glutes to rise (think poorly executed downward dog) will shift the focus elsewhere. Stay straight.
Hold it in: Forgetting to brace your abdominals,allowing them to droop down, will put pressure on your lower spine and defeats the purpose of the exercise. Keep abs taut.
Steely buns: Squeezing your glutes maintains correct exercise form. Do it!
If knees could talk: Soften those locked knees to avoid injury.
Eyes front: Look straight ahead and avoid tucking your chin in or looking downward. This will help maintain proper spinal alignment.
Stop if it hurts: This should be obvious. Find a way to work around your limitations; don’t try to work through them.
Air: Remember to breathe.

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