Before I started really getting into a regular fitness routine, I thought planks looked so silly. Who wouldn’t be able to hold their body weight inches from the ground while leaning on their forearms? Well, the answer was…me.
These buggers are hard, and for a good reason, too! Adding planks into your daily workout proves to have amazing health benefits. For starters, you are going to get a rockin’ core… but, more on that later.
What Exactly is a Plank?
The plank is one of the simplest forms of exercise. You probably see people doing it at the gym all of the time in different variations. The most common forms of this exercise are the high plank and the low plank.
For the low plank, an individual will place her forearms on the ground with her body stretched out behind her and lift her core up until she has achieved a flat back. Once she has gotten into position, she will hold this for at least 20 seconds. The high plank is similar, but your hands are in a pushup position, under your shoulders with a flat back. It’s basically like holding a pushup in mid-form.
What you might often see are gym-goers who do both the low plank and the high plank as part of one routine. You can start in the low plank position, hold it, then move into the high plank position, hold this position, and repeat—until your arms or your core finally plead for mercy!
What are the Benefits of Planks?
Bragging rights. No, but seriously, the benefits are multiple. The plank is basically a balance pose that looks deceptively easy—except that it isn’t. Because as you get into a 30-second or 1-minute plank — queue the shakes! Your body is going to be working very hard to stabilize itself, and the burn is real.
The plank strengthens your abdominal and lower back muscles as well as your upper back and shoulders. Core exercises also activate muscles in your pelvis, hips, and abdomen, and demand that all your muscles work in harmony. Think about it: While the plank targets your abs to leave you with a very stable center of gravity, it’s simultaneously strengthening your hip flexors while firming up your gluteus maximus. This seemingly simple movement has vast benefits and its many different variations provide different levels of difficulty while working a multitude of diverse muscle groups—but your body’s core is always the main benefactor.
Why Core Strength Matters
While this movement works about 20 muscles at the same time, some of the most important of these muscles are in your core. Why are they the most important? Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just about having a six-pack to flaunt or a beach-ready body to boast about (although these are certainly benefits!); your core keeps you safe from harm in your day to day. Truly. Maintaining a strong core ensures that all your internal organs are protected. Yes, your insides. A runaway shopping cart, or a subway rider with flying elbows are no match for a strong core.
A strong core also helps prevent injuries—whether at the gym or in your daily life. So many people suffer from serious back pain that comes about from the simplest act of moving too quickly or bending ever-so-slightly in the wrong direction to reach for something that’s just a tad out of reach. (Yes, I pulled a muscle in my lower back reaching for a stapler—on my desk. On my desk!) The bottom line is a strong core can help prevent these types of injuries and keep potentially debilitating back pain at bay. The important takeaway is that core exercises improve our balance, our stability…and our lives.