If you're a fitness junkie, you've done a lot of planks...Endless planks...Every variation of plank...You've counted the seconds passing until it's over...Then went for another round.
Because they are AWESOME!
Here's just a few reasons to love the Plank (in case you don't already):
~ Stabilizing the spine in neutral (the spine position of your Perfect Plank) is the most efficient way to activate and strengthen the Transversus Abdominis. That's the deepest layer of abdominal muscle that wraps around the body like an internal corset. It protects your back and also helps to cinch in your waistline. Win-Win!
~The Perfect Plank is an isometric contraction of some of your most neglected - and important - shoulder muscles like the Serratus Anterior (a large hand-like muscle that helps stabilize your scapulae against your ribcage that can help prevent many common shoulder injuries), as well as all of your arm muscles.
~The Perfect Plank even engages your leg muscles with different emphasis depending on the variation; but the adductors (inner thighs) are pretty much always working to stabilize.
That's basically a full-body workout in one pose! EXCEPT that many people don't execute the Plank properly. Even more sadly, many fitness instructors don't always fully understand how to cue a client into perfect form.
What goes wrong?
***Thank you in advance for forgiving these un-retouched, post-workout phone pics!***
These are the most common issues I see at the gym, in class, and in my own clients before I assist them:
Starting from the head:
~I see droopy necks everywhere!! Sometimes it's because the client is trying to see their own body, and I can understand that...but take a quick look, then realign that head!! The neck is part of your spine (cervical spine), and should be in line with the rest of your torso.
~ The next issue I see is "sinking" in the shoulders. This sometimes comes from weakness, but it's usually just a lack of awareness. The shoulder blades will look disconnected from the ribs like wings, and that's NOT stable. To correct out of this, feel as though you're trying to push the floor down and away from your face; when you do this, you'll feel your shoulder blades widen and your ribs will press up against them. You're not rounding your upper back, you're simply pressing the ribs into the shoulder blades. The muscle you're activating when you do this is the Serratus Anterior (mentioned above).
~ The hardest thing to adjust for most people is the pelvis. It's also the area that many trainers have a hard time cueing into position. If you look at the image above, my hips are technically "in line" with my body, but you can see that my lower back is compressed. That's because my sitz bones (the little bones under your butt cheeks that you can feel if you're sitting on a hard bench) are aiming up and tilting my pelvis out of neutral position. Some trainers would say "lower your butt," but that's not accurate. To correct this, you'll want to engage your glutes and aim your sitz bones toward your heels. Another way to think of it: squeeze your glutes while you use your abs to scoop your pubic bone a little closer to your belly button. Try these descriptions and see if you notice that your lower back feels a lot happier!! **Note: this adjustment LOOKS very small, but it feels major!**
Some less common errors I see (but they still happen):
~Elbows locked out. You should never sink into your joints, especially if you have hyperextension (like I do). Soften the elbows slightly and feel as if you are "lifting away" or "floating above" your wrists and elbows to prevent compressing your joints this way.
~Abdominals not engaged. You'll feel a bit of tightening in your waist no matter what when you're in a plank, but you still have to consciously pull your navel in. It should feel as though you're zipping up a wet suit around your torso.
~Due to the released abdominals, the lower back is unsupported and "sinking." This is causing the hips to lower and the muscles of the lower back to clench. None of this is necessary or beneficial.
So, what's a Perfect Plank?
It will look slightly different from person to person depending on their spinal curves and the flexibility of their joints. But here's mine:
Neck is aligned (hard to see from this angle with my shoulder there, but it is!), elbows are neutral and not locked out, my shoulders are wide on my ribs and not winging, my abs are tight (shirt is a little wrinkly, but I promise they are, haha!), glutes are engaged, sitz bones are aiming for my heels to reduce any possible lower back compression.
This is your baseline Perfect Plank upon which to build endless variations!! Enjoy your improved posture and tighter waistline:-)