If you had to pick one core stability exercise to do what would you choose?
Life is busy, but you want to do some strengthening exercises because they makes you feel better. If you could only find time for one core strengthening exercise, then wouldn’t you want one that works most of the muscle groups in your body and can be done in a variety of ways?
One exercise that can do all that is the plank. Best of all, it doesn’t require any special equipment.
The plank is generally thought of as an abdominal exercise but it also engages your shoulder, back, abdominal, hip and thigh muscles at the same time. Talk about bang for your buck.
In the plank, your abdominals work isometrically; that is, they work hard without creating movement, which is what we want for good core stability. Strong stability muscles in turn support proper posture and better alignment of the spine. As an exercise, the plank is also pretty safe to do. It can be a helpful core strengthening exercise if you have some lower back pain as the spine is loaded in a neutral rather than a flexed or bent position as happens with sit ups or crunch-type exercises. Your Abdominal Obliques along with shoulder and Gluteal muscles will be strongly challenged but without generating large compressive loads in your lower back.
There are several different ways to perform a plank and when I was researching for the blog I came across dozens of variations of this one exercise. You can’t say that about too many other exercises in the fitness world.
Most people think of the forearm plank at first but there other variations that are just as effective at targeting the same muscles and adding core stability to the joints. By working on your plank in different positions and adding arm or leg movements to the exercise, you can make the exercises more challenging as well as work to improve your balance. For this blog we will discuss the side plank from the knees which is a great place to start if you haven’t done any planks before.
Start by lying on one side supported on one elbow aligned directly under your shoulder. Your hips should be slightly bent, both knees bent to 90 degrees and chest and pelvis perpendicular to the floor. Now quickly lift your hips up and slightly forward until you are able to make a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold this straight line for 1-2 breaths making sure your chest and pelvis are still perpendicular to the floor. Then lower your hips down and backward at half the pace you lifted up until you rest back down on the floor. Repeat this sequence for a total of 5 repetitions, then turn around and repeat on the other side. Work up to 2-3 sets 3 x a week.
The muscles used starting from the shoulders:
- Rotator Cuff
- Serratus Anterior
- Obliques – Internal and External
- Rectus Abdominus
That’s quite the list.
The side plank from the knees is a great way to start this core exercise but like any exercise, it is important to gradually add more challenge in order to continue to build more core strength and stability.
Below are just a couple of images of plank variations from easier to more challenging. They can be done on the wall, on your side, on your forearms and even on the ball. If you have any questions about these plank exercises or if you are not sure that it would be a good exercise for you, talk to your physio at Balance who will be happy to show you how to safely perform the perfect plank!