Mastering the Plank & Planking for Posture

The Plank is one of the BEST core exercises around. In fact, it is the foundation on which all core exercises are built. So why do most people avoid planking? When I ask my clients on day one whether or not they plank often, most say that they’ve tried it but don’t currently do it. That seems to be the case with most people, how about you? A question people ask me all the time is “what’s the best ab exercise?” After answering that it is in fact plank, I can tell from their response that they have no plans on planking in the immediate future. My goal today is to prove to you that there is no substitute for planking, and that plank can be very tough and extremely effective regardless of your athletic capabilities. Plank can also greatly benefit posture and reduce the risk of injury, but only when taking into account the factors we’ll discuss today.

Planking is really popular in fitness. For a while there, it was even popular outside of fitness circles. Most people think plank got its name from the stiff, plank-like position, but the name actually comes from the very important fitness concept of keeping a neutral spine. To keep a neutral spine, imagine a plank strapped to your back and fix your posture to the point in which the plank would touch your butt, shoulder blades and head evenly. This is a constant postural goal for all exercises, especially the ones that challenge the lower back. In this video, we’ll take things literally and actually put a plank on your back (or a piece of cardboard) to give you a reference point on how to improve your plank posture. It’ll be like having your own personal plank trainer!

I’ve simplified this super-complicated concept into 4 position points to focus on and 2 techniques for you to apply.

Things you’ll need: A plank, or simply cut a piece of cardboard out like I did. A mirror can help, but it can also hurt, which is why I’m teaching you to use a plank while you plank!

4 Positioning points to remember while planking: Heels, Hips, Back and Head

1). Heels: When entering plank position, climb your toes well underneath you and get a good calf stretch in order to prevent your feet from sliding. Keep your heels together in order to use more core musculature and less legs.

2). Hips: Don’t allow your hips to sag down towards the ground (this is probably the most common mistake) as that compromises lower-back safety. Maintain a posterior pelvic tilt – you’ll hear this a lot regarding proper posture, and it refers to tilting the top of the pelvis backward (tucking/lengthening the tailbone downwards towards your feet).

3). Back: Keep your chest/sternum up high, with a flat upper back. Don’t allow yourself to sink down towards the ground through your shoulder blades, but also don’t round your back. Engage your scapular stabilizers by “pushing into the floor” with your shoulder blades, after which they should feel solid and stable.

4). Head: The chin-tuck maneuver involves tucking the chin downwards and pushing your head back slightly. This is the reverse of a very common postural issue in which we stick our necks out, most likely from texting, typing and looking down at screens.

Something to keep in mind: By definition, these postural “fixes” will not feel natural. In fact, when trying to do them you will often do they’re opposite. The harder it is to make a postural fix, the more worthwhile and progressive. So if you can’t quite figure out how to tuck your tail, that concept should take your primary focus until you’ve mastered it.

2 Techniques to apply to your plank (and every second of every day!):

A). Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing: A correct deep breath would be a controlled inhale through the nose, with the stomach rising/expanding and little to no chest movement, followed by a controlled exhale through the mouth, deflating the stomach. It’s a complicated subject, but luckily I made an entire video on it, I’ll drop the link under this paragraph if you’re on my website, or in the comments if you’re on Youtube. The diaphragm is a crucial part of the core and it’s the muscle responsible for deep breathing. Over time, we learn to use different muscles and start taking more shallow breaths, especially those who smoke or rarely engage in high intensity cardio. For most of us, we have to retrain the diaphragm to work with the rest of the core, as well as produce more quality deep breaths. There are few things more worthwhile than acquainting yourself with your diaphragm!

B). Lengthening the Spine: Your spine starts at your tailbone and runs up to the top of your head. Basically, the concept here is to keep trying to grow taller, but as is usually the case, it’s not as simple as it sounds. Due to the intricate shape of your spine and the way it interacts with the muscles of the body, we first have to make sure the pelvic girdle, shoulder girdle and head are aligned. Referring back to our 4 positioning points, we’ve already tucked our tail (posterior pelvic tilt), squared our shoulders and tucked our chin. If you envision your spine moving from making each of these fixes, you would see that we’ve created some “room” in the lumbar/lower spine from the posterior pelvic tilt, kept the stability in the thoracic/middle spine, and again created some room up top in the cervical spine. Since we now know that there are no extreme angles, we can now begin lengthening our spine and trying to grow taller between your tail and your head. This may seem trivial, but it really puts the finishing touches on your plank and it’s one of the most important techniques to consider when planking for posture. Gravity is constantly pushing us down, compressing our spine. Our muscles learn to work with that shortened, compressed spine and only function as such. Elongating the spine will elongate several crucial core muscles and force them to maintain stability at their current length, bringing you loads of core and postural progress!

Summary:

Plank belongs in anyone and everyone’s exercise program. If you don’t feel like your plank is yielding progress, one or more of the concepts mentioned above will change that. No matter how advanced you are, a solid plank is worth your time every now and then if not every single day. I’ve been planking for years and even I can stand to make tons of plank progress. Hell, after reviewing this video I realized I can stand to lift my hips a bit and tuck my chin more! So try forgetting everything you know about the plank and incorporating deep breathing, spinal lengthening and all the position points discussed today. Your plank will feel completely different, much harder and much more effective!