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Plank Challenge

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  • Your core muscles are essential to protecting your abdominal organs and posture, while strengthening them leads to reduced back pain and toned abs
  • The basic position of the plank is simple but not necessarily easy to maintain. Start slow and keep increasing your time in the exercise
  • Try the 30-day plank challenge to reach your goal of holding a plank for three minutes
 

30-Day Plank Challenge

May 20, 2016 | 85,698 views
| Available in EspañolDisponible en Español

By Dr. Mercola

Exercise is one of the core pillars of your health and wellness. Exercise enables you to perform your daily activities with ease, age gracefully and improve your overall mood. Planks are just one of the exercises you can incorporate into your daily routine.

If you've never done a plank, it might look easy. In fact, you might think it's too easy to enjoy improved muscle tone and stronger abdominal muscles. But looks are deceiving. Holding a plank position requires strength, stability and endurance in your core muscles.

If you perform this simple yet effective exercise daily, you may experience changes to your abs, back and glutes you didn't expect. When you incorporate a few variations to the position, you'll discover muscles in your back and abdominals you'd forgotten were there.

Activating and strengthening your core muscles gives you an added advantage as you age. The exercise has gained increasing popularity with fitness trainers for good reason. It just works.

The Why's and What's of Your Core

Strengthening your core is about becoming functionally fit. Your abdominal and back muscles are used for more than showing off at the beach or at the gym. Your abs and back are just a part of your core muscles that protect your abdominal organs and provide your body with foundational strength.

Core strength is integral to daily skills and athletic performance. Runners, football players, handball players and other athletes find core strength improves performance and reduces risk of injury.1,2,3,4 But you don't have to be an athlete to appreciate and enjoy the benefits of a strong midsection.

Your core muscles stabilize your body, help you maintain your posture and act as a shock absorber to minimize injury. This muscle group has three-dimensional depth and function. You use these muscles to bend, stand and turn. The main category of muscles in your core include:5

Rectus abdominis: your six-pack muscles, running from your chest to your pelvis, responsible for flexion, or bending you forward.

Multifidi: hold your spine stable during movement and are located on either side of the vertebrae in your spine.

Erector spinae: used for extending your trunk, helping you to stand up after bending over or to bend backward.

Internal and external obliques: these muscles are located on either side of the rectus abdominis and help you to turn from side to side.

Transverse abdominis: the muscle you use when you pull your belly button toward your spine. It is located under the rectus abdominis.

Gluteus maximus, medius and minimus: muscles located in your buttocks and pelvis used to stabilize your hips and spine.

Pelvic floor muscles: running between your pubic bone in the front and tailbone in the back, these muscles help hold your internal organs in place and may help prevent urine leakage.

6 Benefits to the Plank Position

The plank position offers an exceptional range of muscle development due to the position of your body during the exercise. The plank, and variations of the position, works a variety of your core muscles and your shoulder girdle simultaneously. This also integrates your neurological system.

One of the problems with isolated muscle training is the muscles aren't trained to work together. Deliberately training muscles individually increases the risk of injury and reduces sports performance because the isolated work only addresses the large muscle and not the supporting smaller muscles needed for stabilization.

The plank is also more efficient than doing crunches. During crunches you are working just the abdominal muscles responsible for flexion and not the oblique muscles or those controlling your back. There are six specific benefits to using the plank position and the variations described below.

1. Tight Abs

Planks lay the groundwork for tight abdominal muscles so you look better in your clothes and your bathing suit. To get those ripped six-pack abs you also need to shed the layer of fat over the muscle. However, you don't need to shed the fat to enjoy the rest of these benefits.

2. Strong Core

Strong muscles more easily defend your abdominal organs and help you to breathe easier. Your diaphragm is located just under your rib cage. You pull the diaphragm down with your abdominal muscles, which creates negative pressure in your lungs and draws air in.

Breath control is one method of reducing your stress level and decreasing the stress hormones your body may secrete.6 The benefits of stress reduction range from better heart health to improved work performance and better-quality sleep.

3. Back Support

Strengthening your back muscles reduces the likelihood of a back strain or back injury.7 Between 60 percent to 80 percent of people living in the U.S. will suffer from low back pain at some point in their life.

It is the second most common reason people go to the doctor.8 Developing a strong core may protect your back from injury and pain.

4. Balance and Posture

Good balance and posture are important to your overall health and wellness. Balance helps you control and maintain your body position when you're sitting, standing and moving. Good posture reduces upper back pain and overstretched muscles from rounded shoulders and slumping forward.

5. Improved Performance

A strong core will improve your athletic performance and your ability to do your daily tasks. When you do planks regularly, you'll likely find it's easier to move through your day without stress or pain.9

6. Improved Mental Strength and Mood

Maintaining a plank position for two to three minutes requires both physical and mental strength. However, you don't start by holding the plank for three minutes! As you work your way through the 30-day plank challenge, you'll overcome mental and physical challenges to maintain the position, but at a rate you can handle.

With each small hurdle you overcome, you may develop greater mental strength and can use the knowledge of your victories to overcome other challenges in your day. Exercise and strength training also elevate your mood and help you to experience more joy each day.10

Your Basic Plank Position: All About the Rules of Posture

The plank exercise is done in a push-up, or modified push-up, position. The essential piece of the puzzle is how you maintain the position of your back and lower body in straight alignment. The rules of posture during a plank are:

Shoulder, buttocks and legs in a straight line

Buttocks not higher or lower than your back

Head in neutral position looking approximately 8 to 12 inches in front of you

Abdominal and gluteal muscles tight

Shoulder blades pulled down

Lower back in neutral position without excess or reduced lower back curvature

Planks are done on the floor, on your forearms, with your elbows shoulder-width apart. You are on your toes, with your back straight, your abdominal and buttock muscles tight. You will look like you're doing a push-up, but on your forearms instead of your hands.

Variations for Beginners and Advanced

Total Video Length: 8:45

There are several different variations to the plank position. If you are a beginner, you may not be able to achieve the proper position and hold it for at least 10 seconds. In this case you'll want to start with beginner variations. If you can hold the plank for 20 seconds, you may want to use the intermediate positions of these variations. And, if you can hold the plank position for one minute, you may want to challenge yourself with the advanced positions.

Each variation is done with your body in a straight plank position and your weight on your toes. Use the postural rules outlined above. You can either do 10 repetitions of the variations or perform the movements for 30 to 60 seconds.

Variation Beginner Intermediate Advanced
Basic plank Stand approximately 3 feet from a wall. Press your hands into the wall, elbows straight, weight on your toes and hold for 30 seconds. You may also do this on the floor with your hands flat to the floor and knees bent. Done on the floor with either your hands flat to the floor or bearing weight on your forearms in the standard plank position. Hold this position for two minutes. Done on the floor, bearing weight on your hands or over your forearms. Place your feet on a chair or a bench so your body is in a decline position.
Up/Down Plank Start on the floor on your knees in straight-arm position.

Next move to your forearms, hold for two to three seconds and move back to a straight arm position. Up and down is one repetition.
Done on the floor in the basic plank position.
Move from straight arms to your forearms bearing your weight.

Hold for two to three seconds and then go back up to a straight arm position. Up and down once is one repetition.
With your hands on the floor in a straight arm position, put your feet on a bench or chair so your body is in a decline position.

Move to your forearms, hold for two to three seconds and then back to a straight arm position. This is one repetition.
Planks With Leg Raises Start on the floor with your knees bent and in the straight-arm position.

Pull one leg up toward the ceiling as if a string is pulling your leg from behind the knee.

Hold for one or two seconds and bring it back down. Repeat with the other leg. This is one repetition.
The same movement as the beginner exercise, except you are starting from the standard plank position on your forearms. The same movement as the intermediate exercise, except your hold your leg up for 30 to 60 seconds and repeat with your other leg.
Plank Knee Crunch Place your hands flat on a chair or bench, placing your body in the plank position, bearing your weight on your toes.

Bring your right knee to your right elbow and return to the start position. Repeat with your left leg. This is one repetition.
Start on the floor in the straight-arm position, on your toes.

Bring your right knee to your right elbow and return to the starting position. Repeat with your left leg. This is one repetition.
Start on the floor straight-arm position.

Bring your right knee to your right elbow and return, quickly repeat with your left leg.

Watch the video for even more variations working your shoulders, hips, core and back.

Take Your 30-Day Plank Challenge

Planks are deceptively difficult but produce consistent and valuable results for your health. If you don't exercise regularly and try to start with intermediate planks, you may find them too difficult and stop the process. Instead, try this 30-day plank challenge to reach your goal of holding a plank for three minutes.

This calendar was created by celebrity trainer Anna Kaiser, founder of AKT InMotion studio in New York City. Quoted in Yahoo Beauty, Kaiser says, "The hardest part about planking is committing — holding still until the end."11 This program starts with incline planks against the wall. If the first day is too easy move to the floor and use the beginner plank position on your knees. Standard plank position is bearing weight on your toes with your knees straight.

Sun Mon Tues Wed Thu Friday Sat
15 secs
Incline
15 secs
Incline
20 secs
Incline
20 secs
Incline
25 secs
Incline
25 secs
Incline
30 secs
Incline
30 secs
Incline
15 secs
Standard
15 secs
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20 secs
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20 secs
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25 secs
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30 secs
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30 secs
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40 secs
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1 min.
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1 min.
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90 secs
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90 secs
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2 min.
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2 min.
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2 min.
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2.5 min.
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3 min.
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