Woman planks on the floor at the gym
Planking has become increasingly popular for core strengthening, and for good reason: it works – in large part because it engages multiple muscle groups simultaneously. What are some of the benefits you can expect from adding this exercise to your regular routine?
A Toned Belly
Planking will help build your deep inner core muscles that lay the groundwork for a better looking mid-section. As your abdominal muscles become stronger, your mid-section will tighten and reduce the “hang.” This exercise will not reduce your belly fat or reduce stretch marks/extra skin from pregnancy or obesity; keep that in mind. No abdominal strengthening exercise will; they strengthen the muscles below the surface belly fat. A healthy diet eating close to the source free of the majority of processed food, soda and sweeteners – real or man-made - will help belly fat, when combined with a consistent exercise program will help trim the waistline.
Keep in mind, however, that in order to really get "six-pack" abs, you have to shed fat. For men, that would be a body fat of about 6 percent, and women around 9 percent, to achieve that classic six-pack. This is not necessarily healthy or is it considered achievable goals for the average person. Genetics also plays into account. Work toward a reasonable goal of strength and better posture, and a healthy diet to in time trim the waistline.
Reduce Back Pain
Planks work for back pain because they strengthen your core. The core is nature’s girdle to stabilize the spine. When your spine is stable, you will naturally have a reduction in back pain. Planks also strengthen your back muscles, especially those in your upper back. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE): “Because the plank exercise requires minimal movement while contracting all layers of the abdominal fascia, it is an excellent way to strengthen the core, which, in turn, helps reduce low-back pain.”
Keep in mind – if you currently have back pain, planking will not take away that pain. Be sure you are able to do a plank without pain before starting a core strengthening program of any kind. Know the source of the pain and treat that before doing an exercise of any kind. Back pain can be caused from many sources other than weak abdominals. Seek the clearance of your doctor if in doubt before starting a plank program or core strengthening of any kind.
While building strength, planks also increase flexibility in your posterior (the ones you don’t see “behind” you) muscle groups. The muscles around your shoulders, collarbone and shoulder blades will expand and stretch (an area that often receives little attention), as will your hamstrings and even the arches of your feet and your toes. The also require no equipment and are able to travel with you and be done anywhere…therefore creating flexibility with your workouts as far as time and place.
If you do a side plank, you can also stretch out your sides (especially if you extend your arm up over your head in line with your body – this is an advanced move, not for beginners). If you suffer from plantar fasciitis, bunions or other foot and ankle issues planks are not advised.
Improve Your Well-Being
Virtually every exercise has the potential to give you a mood boost, and planks are no exception. Planks are unique, however, in that they help stretch and ultimately relax muscles groups that often become stiff and tense from prolonged sitting. The tension release that planks provide is uplifting for your soul. You can also feel accomplished doing a plank, and therefore improve how you feel about yourself and life, creating that positive mood.
Improve Your Balance and Posture
To do a plank correctly, you must engage your abs to stay upright. Side planks or planks with extensions are particularly beneficial for building balance, as are planks performed on a stability ball (intermediate to advanced exercises). To test and strengthen your balance, try a side plank with a leg raise – get into side plank position, then lift your top leg and hold for one count. Lower it and repeat, then switch sides. In addition, planks work all the muscles you need to maintain proper posture, like your back, chest, shoulders, abs and neck. If you do planks regularly, you’ll find you’re able to sit or stand up straighter with ease.
The key is starting at your level… if a five-second plank is the safest way for you to start, start there! You can start with a five-second plank and do three sets of that for a beginner. For an intermediate focus, try staring with 20 seconds for two days, then increase 10 seconds every two days, using the seventh day for rest. Or for an advanced “planker,” try other planks like side straight arms or alternating arms and legs for more of a challenge. Make it your own, and add it to your fitness routine for an easy core challenge.