When you are short on time but want to fit some quality strength moves into your fitness routine, planks are an excellent option and one of the best ways to build strength and stability in your core. One of the most important things to be mindful of when performing planks is correct form, as doing the exercise incorrectly not only won't improve your strength, but it can also eventually lead to discomfort and potential injuries.
"People generally start to feel discomfort in their shoulders, which may indicate that their elbows are not directly beneath them and they have not engaged their core, leading to the shoulders taking a lot more strain then they need to," said Victoria Webster, a certified personal trainer at Suite Time Fitness in Houston. "Another thing to look out for is low back discomfort. This is a sign that your core is collapsing and your back is sagging down."
There are many variations on plank exercises, but one of the most basic is the forearm plank. Follow these steps to ensure you are performing the exercise correctly:
- Find a space in front of a mirror so you can check your form.
- Lie on your stomach, bring your elbows directly under your shoulders, and flip your toes under your feet
- Exhale and lift your body off the ground. Your body should be in one straight line with a flat back, your butt down and your core engaged.
- Actively draw your belly button up into your spine. Your hands can be grasped in a "prayer" position or parallel to each other.
- Check yourself out in the mirror and lift your midsection back into that strong, straight line you had initially
Don't get too preoccupied with how long you can hold a plank, either. "There is no reason, ever, to hold a plank for five minutes. One or two minutes are good goals to work up to; anything more than that and you'll likely begin to lose form," Webster said. "Personally, I like to do several sets of 90- to 120-second planks, alternating with a low back exercise, for balance."
Finally, don't forget to breathe. "As a trainer, I find that when people are doing exercises that are difficult, and especially if they're being timed, they hold their breath. Nice, slow, controlled breathing will help you through the exercise," Webster said.