What is the perfect plank?

Earlier this year, Sarah Barkley and I took an amazing Kettle Bell class and there was a common cue we heard from our instructors. It was: “Squeeze your glutes like you have a quarter between them.” For some reason this cuing stuck, I don’t know why, but it struck a chord with me…and if you ask my clients, I use it ALL of the time!

I know everybody is probably doing planks. Unfortunately, most people know how a plank should “look” they just don’t execute it perfectly. Many people are not quite sure what muscles should be firing to align the spine to get the correct muscles working. So here are some strategies to help you find that “Perfect Plank.”

First things first..get yourself in front of a mirror or have a friend take a picture of you doing a plank..if it looks like the picture below, you are a rock star and don’t need to read any further!! However, if you aren’t quite here yet..please continue on..I promise it will help!

Perfect Plank

A proper plank includes more than just cueing to squeeze the glutes, flex the quads, and brace the core. It also requires you to fully align the spine in a neutral position. By aligning the spine along with squeezing your glutes, flexing your quads and bracing your core, you will keep your abs firing at all times. You definitely want your abs firing instead of finding ways to compensate. Many times the back, especially the lower lumbar, gets overworked. Quite simply, if you feel your back, you are out of position and something in your kinetic chain is off.

By planking correctly, you can transfer this neural recruitment pattern to most other movements and exercises. For example, all a basic push up is, no matter what step or progression you are on, is a moving plank. The push up just recruits a few more major muscle groups like the pecs (major and minor), the anterior deltoid, and the triceps.

Here are a few common form issues that you can visibly correct:

Low Back Arch:

This arching will compress the lower vertebrae and many times will cause a sore lower back. (Guy at the top of picture) By continuously doing movements like this with poor form, you will create poor neural recruitment patterns. Meaning, your body will automatically fire the wrong muscles at the wrong times leading to more and more aches and pains over time, possibly some chronic pain and even injury! To fix this, try taking a small exercise ball and placing it between the knees before you start (while kneeling), then gently squeeze the knees while getting into the plank position.  This keeps the knees in alignment with the hips and takes the pressure off of the low back, forcing you to use your abs correctly.

Neck Reach or “Bobbing For Apples”:

This is usually the first visible sign someone is struggling with a plank and push up. (Guy in the Middle) By doing this poor movement pattern you are making the upper traps and neck muscles strain. This generally leads to upper back pain, neck pain and even constant headaches.

Butt in the air:

Not the worse of the bunch mentioned above but it can put excess stress on shoulders and kink up your traps and neck. (Guy in the bottom of the picture directly above) You are not engaging your hips and glutes so you are actually not firing your abs very much if at all. So, why do something that doesn’t give you much of a benefit? Simply do a proper plank for a few seconds, put your knees down when form begins to fade, and then pop back up when ready.

Solution:

So, by squeezing your glutes like there is a “quarter between your cheeks” you will get the hips in proper position to allow the abs to fire. By firing the quads along with your glutes, you are helping your glutes line up your hips so that your spine is in a neutral position.  (if necessary please use a small exercise ball between your knees, one of the purple ones here at Gold’s) By doing this, your abs should turn on throughout the movement you are doing. Start by doing a high plank or push up position until you have improved your core/ab strength enough to do them on your elbows. Holding for one minute is a solid time frame to hold a true plank.

And just for fun..you should end up looking like this:

All of us here at Gold’s are here to do one thing..help you on your fitness journey to success!!

Please feel free to contact us with any questions you might have or have us check your “Perfect Plank” for you!!

Happy Planking!

Trish Wulfman

Certified Pilates Mat/Reformer

Group Exercise Instructor