As we’re experimenting with more at-home workouts to keep ourselves healthy and happy outside of the studio, I wanted to look into improving one of the simplest total-body (but mostly core) exercises: the plank.
I’m no stranger to plank challenges, in fact I planked for two minutes every day for two weeks a while back. But I wondered if there were non plank exercises I could do to improve my form — and get over that two-minute mark. I decided to ask my trainer, Liz Letchford, MS, ATC, PhD-C, founder of The Release.
“There are three main parts of a plank that trainers are looking for,” she said. “All of them have to do with proper form and stability: shoulder stability, core stability, and hip stability.” So to hold a plank longer, we should ensure that we can keep good form in each of those areas for longer periods of time. “When any of those [three components] gives way, you’re going to have poor form — that’s game over,” she said, noting that if you’re not properly doing a plank, you’re not getting the benefits (and you could be doing more harm than good).
While this simple yet specific exercise is “80 percent core” (and thus where Letchford focuses most of the training advice), there are movements we can do to emphasize the shoulder girdle and pelvic stability, as they’re also integral areas to emphasize good form. Letchford shared three things to do each day, for 30 to 60 seconds each (simple, right?). “You want to activate the right muscles through exercises and targeting of myofascial tissue [the tissue that supports and protects muscles].”
Here’s the program:
- Scapular push-ups: 30 seconds, building by a few seconds each day if you can keep good form.
- Hollow body holds (also called hollow body Superman): 30 seconds, building by a few seconds each day if you can keep good form.
- Low back, thigh, hip myofascial release (self massage with foam roller, trigger point balls, or another recovery tool): 60 seconds for each area.
She advised I follow this plan every day for seven days. On the first day, I had her observe my first plank so we had a starting group. The time I was personally improving on was 2:39 so we decided a reasonable goal would be roughly 30-45 seconds, settling on 3:15 as our end-of-week goal. The end result? A 4:22 plank! We were both blown away by the time difference, so ahead, you’ll find a step-by-step manual to try it for yourself.
And last thing to keep in mind: “A huge component of planking is breathing technique while you’re in that position,” said Letchford. “Remember: big slow exhales and breathe low into the rib cage.”