What’s not to love about planks? They’re an exercise you can do almost anywhere using your own bodyweight. Once you’ve mastered a basic plank, you can also do one of the many plank variations that challenge your body even more than a standard one. In fact, there are more than 50 plank variations! That’s enough to keep you busy for a while!
Unlike exercises like deadlifts and biceps curls, a plank is an isometric exercise, one where you hold your body in a fixed position against gravity. Your muscles don’t contract, and your joints don’t move, but you still have to tighten the muscles in your core and back to resist gravity.
In fact, planks are best known as an exercise for strengthening the core muscles, including your abs. Plus, unlike crunches, planks are an exercise that doesn’t require spinal flexion, making it a safer exercise for people who suffer from back pain. Plus, you don’t just work your abs; you hit multiple muscles, including stabilizing muscles that improve your posture. However, planks are more than a core exercise. Here are some other benefits you get when you do planks regularly.
Benefits of Planks #1: Planks Will Improve Your Sense of Balance
A basic plank doesn’t offer much of a balance challenge, but with a few twists to the movement, you can make the exercise more challenging and improve your balance skills at the same time. How can you do this? When you hold a plank position, simply lift one hand and the opposite foot off the floor and the same time and hold them up for as long as you can. Then, switch sides. You might find this move challenging at first, but you’ll discover you can hold the move longer and longer over time. Don’t forget, having a strong core reduces your risk of falling. That’s important as we age!
Side planks also offer a balance challenge and some people struggle to do one when they first start out. If doing a side plank with your hand on the floor is too challenging initially, place your elbow on the floor instead. But you can always make the exercise harder. Once you’ve mastered a side plank, challenge your balance skills even more by raising the leg on top toward the ceiling while you hold a side plank. This is a good variation for strengthening the hips.
Benefits of Planks #2: Planks Can Improve Your Performance When You Weight Train
Planks are an effective core exercise in and of themselves, but they can also improve your performance when you do other weight training exercises that require core strength. Moves like deadlifts, squats, and push-ups become easier and safer when your core is strong. The core muscles you work when you plank help to stabilize your body when you do compound, strength training exercises and even when you do isolation exercises, like biceps curls. One way to take full advantage of the benefits planks offer is to start your workouts with a set of front and side planks. Doing this will fire up your core and get it ready for the compound work ahead. The core strength you gain from doing planks regularly will help your form when you do compound exercises and enhance your performance.
Benefits of Planks #3: Planks Can Lower Risk of Back Pain
Lower back pain is an epidemic in countries like the United States where people sit too much. In fact, lower back pain is the most common complaint that relates to the musculoskeletal system, and lack of activity and weak core muscles are a major contributor. Plus, too often, people don’t sit in a chair correctly. Planks help to strengthen the muscles in your core and back that weaken when you sit too much.
One word of warning! If you do planks incorrectly, you can bring on or worsen back pain. If you let your hips fall or your belly sinks toward the ground, you’re placing excess stress on your back. Ask someone to critique your plank form. If they say your back is curved into a “C,” you’re straining your back rather than strengthening it. One way to avoid this is to focus less on how long you hold the position and more on holding it with good form. Keep working on improving your form when you do planks and you’ll be stronger and less likely to end up with back pain.
Benefits of Planks #4: They’re a Good Mental Exercise
When you hold a position for 30 seconds or longer, as you do a plank, it gives you a chance to focus on breathing or to repeat motivational mantras in your mind. It’s a good “breather” between other exercises that you do.
Benefits of Planks #5: Planks May Lower Your Risk of Injury When You Play Sports
No matter what sport you play, you need to reduce your risk of injury as much as possible. Planks can help you do this. When you do a front plank, hold your spine in a straight line and try to avoid arching your back or letting your hips drop. Arching your back is a risky move from the standpoint of back health. By mastering a front plank, you train your back and torso to resist extension, thereby lowering your risk of a back injury.
With a side plank, you try to hold your hips off the floor and resist the downward pull of gravity. Holding this position trains your core muscles to resist lateral flexion. This is important since too much lateral flexion when playing sports increases the risk of injury. Plus, core strengthening is linked with a lower rate of injuries, especially lower extremity injuries, in some studies.
The Bottom Line
Yes, planks are an excellent strengthening exercise for the back and core, but they have other benefits as well. And you can always kick the fitness benefits up a notch by challenging yourself to try one new plank variation per week. Don’t get into a plank rut by doing only a basic plank and a side plank. Boost your fitness even more by doing more advanced plank variations!
· Sportverletz Sportschaden. 2018 Mar;32(1):35-46. doi: 10.1055/a-0575-2324. Epub 2018 Mar 20.
· Sports Health. 2013 Nov; 5(6): 514–522. doi: 10.1177/1941738113481200.
Related Articles By Cathe: