A lot of people will perform planks as part of their exercise routine. The front and side plank get a lot of love, and for good reason! For a lot of people these exercises are challenging enough. However, once you've mastered the basics, you may need to step it up a notch. Here are some challenging progressions that I feel really carry over to athletics and can get you closer to your training goals. Each of the following plank progressions add hip motion to the equation so you will be supported on one limb for a period of time. It’s the support leg that is most important for stability and will be working the hardest. With all of these exercises, you must maintain a stable core. So in other words, when you lift a leg your trunk should remain motionless. If you have to lift your butt up or it sags down then either it is too much for you or you are getting fatigued and need a break. Perfect reps, nothing less.
The other great thing about these exercises is that they give you a chance to look at symmetry. By this I mean how does your right leg compare to your left leg when doing a front plank, or how about right and left sides when performing a side plank? It should be just as easy or difficult on both sides. Right-Left asymmetries are a huge predictor of injury so work to limit these. Typically I will have patients or athletes perform an extra set on the weaker side to bring that side up to par.
Alright, done with the lecture. Check out the plank progressions below.
Prone Plank with Hip Extension -alternate lifting legs about 4-6 inches off the floor. Nothing moves but the hips. Shoot for 10 solid reps each leg without losing form. And if you’ve been paying attention in previous posts, hold the leg up long enough to cycle a breath, then set it back down. That will be the true test of your inner and outer core working together.
Side Plank with Hip Abduction – I really like the side planks as they test your entire lateral kinetic chain for stability. Post up through the forearm by pressing it ‘through the floor’. Now lift the top leg keeping the hips high. Shoot for 10 quality reps with proper diaphragmatic (belly) breathing throughout. When you can achieve that, now hold the leg at the top and cycle a breath before bringing it back down.
Side Plank with Hip Adduction –this is another great variation that I think gets overlooked. The bottom leg will be off the ground in this case so the adductors (inner thigh muscles) of the top leg will be carrying more of the load. Breathing is crucial again so get it right. Start with 10 second intervals if necessary shooting for 30 second holds ultimately. If you’ve achieved that, then progress the exercise by moving that bottom leg back and forth. It should look like a running stride – flex the hip up and then extend it back. Adding the front to back movement will make your core have to work that much harder to remain stable. I’ll shoot for 10 reps here again as well.
Three great ways to challenge yourself! Remember to play close attention to those side-to-side differences. Cleaning those up will bring the greatest benefits.