Get Physical: This Plank Ain’t Made for Walkin’

The fitness world has more than its share of buzzwords and marketing. For the last few years, it’s been all about the “core” but as is often the case, only the hype is new. “Athletes, coaches, and fitness professionals have long appreciated the value of core training,” says Michael Margulies, owner of East Side MMA and Core Fitness in New York City. “It’s not a new discovery that we need to target the muscles that stabilize the spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle, it’s basic physiology.”

I’ve got another hot word for you: Plank. First yoga and then Pilates claimed this position but now, you’ll find planks being done in every gym in America…and for good reason. This simple pose serves as an introduction of sorts to core training.

Proper Form
Begin by lying face down on a mat, your elbows resting on the mat slightly wider than your chest. Rise into the “up” position of a push-up. Depending on your conditioning and strength, you can rest your upper body weight on your elbows (a little easier) or hands. Lower body weight is balanced on your toes (novices might wish to modify by doing a plank on their knees).

Follow These Cues
Your back is straight, your abs are tight and your spine is long. “Visualize the top of your head being pulled in one direction and your heels being pulled in the opposite direction,” says Margulies. Be sure nothing is clenched, in particular face, neck, jaw, shoulders, arms and hands. Hips remain stable. Once in this position, focus on your breath—long, slow inhales and exhales of equal length. “Start with 4 or 5 seconds in,” Margulies says, “and 4 or 5 seconds out.”

How long you hold the plank is based entirely on your personal fitness level, but a beginner usually starts with 30 seconds. If you can maintain proper plank posture without your lower back sagging or your body starting to shake, you can probably add a little more time. Once you’ve reached 60 seconds, you may wish to consider doing a series of planks rather than trying to hold it longer and longer. “There comes a point of diminishing returns,” warns Margulies. “You never want to sacrifice form.”

Final note
The exercise advice presented above is not meant for anyone with contraindicated health problems. Please consult a medical or fitness professional.