Monday, March 9, 2015

The Plank

If you do a search on the term "Plank Exercise", you will get 11,900,000 results. By that account, it has to be agreed that the Plank may be a very popular form of exercise.

I know I made mention of the plank in a previous post, in that it helps to strengthen the core and help with the climbing of hills in the run. A strong core helps with all aspects of the run, and certainly any demands such as hill climbing.

What about the Plank. if you read the Wikipedia entry, you have this:

The plank (also called a front hold, hover, or abdominal bridge) is an isometric core strength exercise that involves maintaining a difficult position for extended periods of time. The most common plank is the front plank which is held in a push-up position with the body's weight borne on forearms, elbows, and toes. Many variations exist such as the side plank and the reverse plank.[1][2] The plank is commonly practiced in pilates and yoga, and by those training for boxing and other sports.[3][4][5][6] The plank strengthens the abdominals, back, and shoulders. Muscles involved in the front plank include: Primary muscles: erector spinae, rectus abdominis (abs), and transverse abdominus.[citation needed] Secondary muscles (synergists/segmental stabilizers): trapezius (traps), rhomboids, rotator cuff, the anterior, medial, and posterior deltoid muscles (delts), pectorals (pecs), serratus anterior, gluteus maximus (glutes), quadriceps (quads), and gastrocnemius

About 5 years ago, I decided to start doing Plank exercises as part of my weekly workout. I went for a 2 minute elbow plank, of course I realized it wasn't going to be that difficult. After all, I do push ups and chest press, my upper body is in good shape, so these would be fairly straight-forward to do, or should I say easy to do. That was my feeling and so with a certain level of confidence, and perhaps a bit of arrogance, I pushed "play" and started out. It was simple and straight-forward, It was easy and I felt I had this, then I reached the 30 second point of the exercise. Yeah I didn't even last 60 seconds for the first time. I was hitting the pause button for an extended rest. Then the ugly truth hit me, this is not an easy exercise. If I was planning to do planks, I had to realize this was not something to toy with, and if I ever did, I would pay for it with exhaustion. It took a couple of weeks but eventually I managed to go a full 45 seconds without hitting pause, and then a full minute. While I regularly do a minute or so with various planks, I can up it to at least 2 minutes wihtout any problems. I should say and point out the world record for a plank is over 4 hours. I'm not sure what type of plank was held for the total, but that's a long time in one position.

That's the important part of the Plank, unlike a lot of other exercises where you work the muscles, this is keeping still. As the definition states, it is an isometric exercise, meaning that the muscles are kept still. It is a static exercise, which can give strength rather then tone the muscles. Some have pointed out this makes sense since the core needs to be kept still for it to be strong. You are not contracting and expanding muscles, you are using the core as the support for all the upper and lower muscle groups. This is why, as a point, it is an important exercise for running. When running, the core is the centre and holds the muscles to work together to propel. It is where the extra strength for the body to move forward during the challenging parts of a run, such as hills.

The key of the Plank is to remain still, at least the core, there are a lot of different planks which bring about movement to some part of the body, such as the legs, the hips or the arms. But the middle, the core stays still. It is recognized as an exercise that has a positive impact for both men and women. In the search, there are articles for men and articles for women. Of course you might notice the difference in the title, for men, it's strong abs, for women its sexy abs. I suppose the opposite could be said for men, it will develop the sexy abs and for women, strong abs. But we have this sexist issue don't we.

The great aspect regarding planks, is that you will never get bored, because you don't have to do just one style. The first style is probably the elbow plank, which is the most simple and has the less impact on the arms. After that, there is the full plank, which is a push up without moving. You hold at the top of the push up and just stay there for one minute, two minutes and so on and so forth. It's a matter of how long you want to hold the plank. After these two, there is the side planks. Instead of two arms, you move the body to one side, balancing on the one arm and leg and hold the position. There is the elbow, or half side plank, or the full or arm plank. There is variations to those as well. . If you want to get some movement to part of the body, there is threading the needle, while the first two side mean you have an arm that doesn't do anything, and the usual suggestion is to point it up in the air, this one means you put the arm underneath the body and bring it out, like you're threading a needle.

Those are just a few of the many, the key to all of them, is to form a straight line from the heel to the neck. Don't sag or over-compensate, but try to keep it straight, this is where the strength and exercise is the best. This is where the isometric exercise kicks in and brings about the development of the core. We can add the reverse plank, the various one armed planks, the elevated, the declined. One can bring the Bosu Ball into the mix and have even a greater variation. This will add the aspect of constant compensation, but in small doses, so it remains isometric, with just a little added kick.

If you decide to start doing the plank, you have to understand what will happen. What are the benefits to the Plank? One article suggests there are at least five benefits. I suggest you follow the link and read them for yourself. While reading them, I wonder if the most important may be the "Reduced Back Pain", with our sedatary lifestyle, we are open to having back problems. Couple this bad sitting posture with the fact we probably lift with a horrible pose, we are asking for back aches and chronic problems back there. To compensate we do an exercise which develops and strengthens the core, it has to be a positive experience and so we are saving our back by developing our core muscles.

Another question needs to be, how long should I hold a plank. Most believe the best for most people is to reach 2 minutes. This is a good time and it will give a lot of strength. If you get going with the plank as exercise, then you'll probably want to push the limit. A number of sites present a 30 Day challenge. The challenge and goal is to reach 5 minutes for the plank. If you can be still for that length of time, you have done something. Of course, other sites will question the length of time, most point out that 2 minutes may be the best time and anything after that will not bring any impact to the overall fitness.

Of course, like everything, for the many who are positive, there are always a few detractors. This is not a negative statement, but a word of warning, with everybody saying how great the plank is, there is nothing wrong with reading opinion on the other side. One auther suggests that planks are overrated. He doesn't throw it out totally, his suggestion is to change the plank into a push up. This exercise he believes is the best, because it uses more muscles. This is a good question, is the plank overrated. I would suggest is if the only thing you do is a plank, it can be a problem, you're missing a whole lot of other great exercises. Should always at variety to the mix. It keeps it interesting and doesn't develop the entire problem of hitting a plateau and not moving beyond.

I do use the plank as part of the exercise, usually for the core or the abs. I don't overdo the plank, of the 40-45 minutes, I probably do about 4-6 minutes worth of plank. There is one plank I really enjoy doing. I usually try to encourage people to try it out because it is a whole lot of fun. To me, one of the best planks, and I've done a fair number of the variations, is the Wall Plank. This is a great exercise and really develops the core and also shoulders as well as arms. There are a lot of variations to this plank, and to me the best one is the one presented in Skimble. Legs up the wall and not just a few feet off the ground, but way up there. It's a great feeling and if you can do this for a minute, you've done something good.

The Plank is an exercise worth adding to your overall fitness plan. Like so many exercises there are a number of programs which will help you to develop your own plank and your length of time to do the Plank.

The Plank is one exercise worth doing.

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