Core Training

Anterior Plank - Not just an exercise for your abs

The Plank is often thought to be a core exercise. However, I'm here to tell you that there are other unforeseen benefits of the plank that you may not have considered before.

First we need to talk about what a good plank looks like. A good plank will show a nice straight line from your head to your tailbone. This line should be parallel with the floor. You should be actively reaching through both elbows pushing your chest away from the ground. Hold this position as you take a breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. When you breathe in through the nose your should feel your upper back expand. When you exhale, you should feel your abs turn on.

When performed in this fashion, here are some added benefits and applications you may have never considered before.

Shoulder - Reaching through your arms (elbows in this case) stimulates the serratus anterior which is needed for shoulder health. Reaching + Breathing creates an optimal relationship between the scapula and rib cage. All the while your rotator cuff muscle are firing in an isometric fashion.

Shoulder Rehab - this is an excellent way to start introducing closed chain activity for the upper extremity at a lower level to work scapula thoracic relationship.

Youth Sports Training - Obviously its a good exercise to gain core control, we know that. But many youth athletes struggle mightily with a pushup. 1) Due to lack of core strength/endurance to maintain a neutral spine position. 2) Lack of shoulder strength/stability. Performing a plank correctly can stimulate both of these components as you simultaneously work relative strength with a dumbell floor press.

Plank Exercise Progressions

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.