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ABsolutely Core Crazed- Part V

Planks reveal the truth about your core strength.

View previous posts in this series, ABsolutely Core Crazed.

You wouldn’t think that an exercise where you stay perfectly still could make so many body parts stronger.  There are many versions of the plank, many I will illustrate here. In a nutshell, you straighten your body like a board and hold it there.

This simple exercise works your entire core, back, quads, ankles, arms, shoulders, butt, and brain.  A stationary pose that looks so easy can be downright torturous!  It’s a hoot to see big, strong guys drop to their knees in agony when I challenge them in a plank contest.  I haven’t lost one yet!

If you promise to try these plank variations to improve your core strength, I’ll share a few of my secrets to holding a plank longer in my final post of this series next week.  Then make sure and write me when you challenge Hercules at the gym and win!

  • Straight Plank
    • Rest on your forearms on a comfortable mat keeping your arms at a 90 degree angle with hands flat on the mat.  Flex your toes underneath you to stabilize your lower body.
    • Most importantly, your entire body (including head and neck) should be like a firm board with no sagging in your lower back and no butts in the air.  If you can only hold a plank by sagging or lifting, then STOP and work your core in other ways to develop enough strength to do this properly.  Otherwise, you may hurt yourself.
    • Stay perfectly still and hold.  The exercise itself is not difficult.  What makes the plank hard is the effort it takes to maintain perfect form—this is where you build strength.  You will feel the burn in your core, back, arms and legs.  As long as your body is straight (look in a mirror), that pain is not hurting your body but making it stronger.
    • Advanced plank:  have someone add a weight to your back (or let a toddler straddle you).
    • Hold for 30 seconds, rest, repeat.  Work up to several minutes by gradually increasing length of hold.
  • Side Plank
    • Same as straight plank except on your side.  Do not let your waist dip down toward the mat.  Every bit of fight to hold that position is making you stronger.
    • Your feet:  The easiest and most stable position is with your top foot on mat slightly in front of your inside foot with both resting on their sides.  A more advanced position is to rest the top foot on top of the bottom foot.  This adds a balance element.
    • Advanced side plank variation 1:  Elevate feet on a step.  You must keep your core from sagging downward.
    • Advanced side plank variation 2:  On the mat, lift upper leg slightly in the air while holding.  This adds balance and inner and outer thigh strength elements.
    • Advanced side plank variation 3:  Instead of resting on bent forearm, keep arm fully extended and straight.  (I personally am not fond of this one because my arm gets too tired before my core is really challenged).
  • Side Planks with Rotation
    • In side plank position, reach with top arm to the sky and then rotate top arm beneath your chest without touching the mat.  Twist your body without losing balance.  Start with both feet firmly on the mat on their side (top foot in front of bottom foot).  Advance to putting your top foot on top of your bottom foot but still maintaining balance and control as you twist.  Do several reps on each side.
    • Advanced version 1:  Elevate feet on a step.
    • Advanced version 2:  Add a small hand weight.
  • Yoga Planks
    • Be prepared to look a little twisted if doing these in public:).  In straight plank position, raise one leg up and hold.  Then twist to the outside turning your hip outward and swinging your raised leg back.  This adds a balance and stretching element and absolutely recommended for runners with tight hip flexors!
    • The value of yoga planks is equally for the core and the stretch.  It is a fluid movement as opposed to a hold.
    • Advanced version: combine this twist after holding a straight plank.
  • Runners Plank
    • The name implies that this is a plank for runners.  Actually, it’s a running plank.
    • Version 1 (easier):  In straight plank position, elevate your forearms on the ball side of a bosu ball (you will want the comfort and this will help keep your back straight).  Alternate lifting your knees to your chest while keeping your floor leg fully extended.  Do not cheat by not maintaining the straight, fully extended plank while you bring your knees in.
    • Version 2 (advanced):  In straight plank position with forearms on the floor, elevate feet on bosu ball keeping your back straight as possible.  Bring each knee in toward your chest without letting your rear elevate more than a tad.  Whenever I need to be humbled, I do a large set of these and cry (they are really hard).
  • Advanced Planks with Push-Ups
    • Hold 2 moderately heavy dumbbells in front of you in straight plank position shoulder width apart.  Do a deep push-up (since you are holding weights your push-up can go down even lower than if your hands were just on the ground). When you return to the straight plank, twist to one side lifting the weight into the air.  Requires more balance and strength.  Do another push-up and twist to other side.
    • Advanced version 1:  When doing push-up portion, hold for 3 counts as you go down slightly, 3 counts after going down a bit more and 3 counts when all the way down and same procedure coming back up.  Keep your core straight.
    • Advanced version 2:  Elevate feet on a weight bench while doing push-ups with the dumbbells in hand keeping a straight body position.  (Do not twist on these as your body cannot be maintained in a correct position when feet are elevated that high).  Add the 3 count holds for extra challenge.


Stay tuned for Part VI, the conclusion of ABsolutely Core Crazed, Core Lore and Skitz Core Secrets.

"Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can do what others can’t."

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