How many times have you held a plank? It’s likely more than you think. Heck, even a push-up is a plank in disguise.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is a place for them. But if you’ve been lifting a while, it’s safe to say you’ve outgrown the boring basics. That’s good news because now you can stop messing around and start doing planks that’ll make a difference.
Here are three ways to make your planks more effective:
1. Add a Press
Sure, you can do arm and leg lifts, but remember, you’re going to want to add some load at some point. Take a look at the plank kettlebell press. It’s quite possibly the hardest plank you’ve never tried, yet so simple. Just grab a kettlebell, drop down into a high plank and start punching straight ahead.
Punching a kettlebell will demand more of your core rotary stability and work your shoulders and scapula stabilizers. Here I’ve also added a chain for extra badass-ness and also to load the anti-extension component of the plank even more.
For the plank kettlebell press, I prefer reps over duration. Sets of 10-15 heavy presses on each arm are a good start. If you prefer clock-watching, then around 20-30 seconds on each side.
2. Introduce a Little Wobbliness
Your core as a unit is built to resist in multiple directions and unpredictable situations. That’s not to say your workouts should ever look like a circus act, but your core training can indeed benefit from the right kind of wobbliness.
The hanging kettlebell plank is an advanced plank I like for this purpose:
Here, you’re incorporating an element of somewhat unpredictable instability without having to sacrifice much in the loading department. The hanging kettlebell plank is a perfect choice for developing a more stable and resilient spine and pelvis and for enhanced body and positional awareness.
Just a few notes on these before you run off and try them, though. The band you use is important, and you’ll need to factor in the weight of the kettlebell.
If the band resistance is too low, then the kettlebell will stretch it and touch the floor. If the band resistance is too high, then you won’t get much of a wobble from it at all.
Play around with the band-bell combo that gives you the perfect amount of wobbliness. If the kettlebell isn’t lively enough, try moving your hips a little to get it going, or have a partner tug on the bell for you!
3. Find Opportunities to Add Load
The fastest way to improve your planking and core strength is to add load at any opportunity. We’re not talking about adding weight at the expense of your form and tension. Instead, think about it as trying to coax, rather than force, your body into getting a little stronger every week.
See how many plates you can stack on your back without them toppling off. Then take them back off again.
These might seem more fun than any exercise should be, but you’re accomplishing multiple things at the same time, including working through some shoulder mobility and the challenge of resisting rotation and extension through your midsection. If nothing else, they’re worth getting your mates to try them just to see them fail!
Why Static Planks Suck, Kinda
I’m not a fan of static planks. Sure, they CAN be useful for absolute beginners, but for everyone else, there are one-thousand-and-one better options to build your core strength and spinal stability.
No matter your goal, use the best exercises to achieve a specific outcome. And for planks to be truly effective, you need to be using variations that provide a challenge against a changing environment. Think limb lifts or partner perturbations, or progression via added external resistance.
Holding a static position on your elbows and toes for minutes on end isn’t going to build core strength or stability. It’ll just cause fatigue to accumulate with very little actual stimulation. This fatigue gives you a false sense of achievement.
Sure it’ll feel hard, but if your form is falling apart anyway, you’re not making progress but rather paving the way for a future backache.
Understanding Your Core
Your core technically includes your glutes and even your lats. It includes every muscle that’s involved in the movement and stabilization of your lumbo-pelvic-hip complex.
For example, your lats originate on the iliac crest (top of your pelvis), among other places, so they influence pelvic movement and are therefore a core muscle. Your six-pack abs are part of your core, as are a long list of other muscles.
As a side note, abs and core are not interchangeable terms, and training for abdominal density versus core stability requires different approaches.
These core muscles have a role in resisting movement around your lumbo-pelvic-hip complex from multiple directions. That’s because your spine, pelvis, and hips can move in multiple directions (who knew!?).
It’s not just resisting gravity pulling you down while you hold a static plank. So for any plank to be effective, it needs to hit you from multiple directions and integrate a bunch of prime movers and stabilizing muscles at the same time.
Your core is complex, but with some simple tweaks to your standard plank, you’ll do a better job of working it.