The plank is often referred to as a abs or core exercise, which is the truth. However, the plank is much more than that.
Depending on which version you select, it will add more focus on specific parts of your body. Unfortunately, it will also be less efficient if not done correctly. So the question is how to do it correctly and which versions to select, not to mention how do you do proper plank progression?
Lucky enough you came to this article where you will get all the answers 🙂
What we will cover is:
Standard plank – which muscle groups it works and how to do it correctly
Different plank versions
Plank progression and an easy to follow template
Please also remember that even though the plank is a great exercise, it’s not enough to keep your body fit with only one exercise – if you would like to try one of my complete bodyweight workout plans for free, please have a look here.
The traditional plank is performed by holding your body in a “straight” line from heels to head and supporting the upper body on your elbows, which are placed just below the shoulders. The lower body is resting on the toes.
In order to keep yourself in such a position, we need to engage the core muscles. These are basically the muscles running around your body from your hip to your chest. This is also the reason why we see the plank as a core exercise.
However, the truth is, your shoulders, upper back and legs have to work as well. Else you wouldn’t be able to hold yourself in this position.
The muscles on the front and the back of your body are the ones that need to work most in this position – simply because of gravity.
The plank is what we call an isometric hold. Meaning, we contract the muscles and hold them in that position.
Working the core muscles in such a way is very beneficial as this is the nature of how our core muscles work. Basically, they are meant to keep our body vertical and protect vital parts such as the spine, etc. A natural isometric contraction of these muscles is seen through movement, where other parts such as legs and arms are more designed for eccentric and concentric contraction.
What people do wrong
The first step for a proper plank progression is to do the standard version correctly. Here are the most important things to be aware of.
Not keeping the body in a straight line and arching either up or down is the most common issue. When this happens, we are either losing the muscles on the front or the back.
Not tilting the pelvis to contract the abs. This issue is seen when there is an arch in the lower back and a high butt. When tilting the pelvis by contracting the abs, the lower back will flatten out.
Hanging in the shoulders. This is seen when the space between scapulars becomes very small. Scapulars should be kept as far as possible from each other.
Different plank versions
Some versions will be more challenging than others and therefore a plank progression can be built up by applying these different versions.
Let’s look at some of them.
Front plank progression
For all the front planks, which means where we work with stomach towards the floor in different angels, the above performance description is applicable.
Wall plank is the first level. In a normal plank position and with proper technique, place forearms against a wall and walk the legs out to a manageable angel. The more far away the legs are from the wall, the harder the exercise.
Plank on knees is again a standard plank but where we just rest the lower body on the knees instead of the toes.
Plank on straight arms is close to a standard plank, but as the angle of the body towards the ground is bigger, the core will have to work less. The shoulders will have to do the same amount of work and the forearms also need to be engaged.
Standard plank is performed as described above.
One arm plank will require more stabilization and therefore make it harder. Stabilization is extremely important for a good movement pattern. Therefore make sure to add this kind of exercises when possible.
To perform the exercise simply do the standard plank and then lift one arm. Make sure to alternate between arms.
One leg plank is a bit harder than one arm plank. The reason is simply that the legs are stronger and heavier than your arms. Removing one of them from the exercise will require the other parts to work even harder.
Exactly as with the one arm plank, it will require more stabilization. Performance is like the standard plank and then just lifting one leg. Also, make sure to alternate here.
One arm & one leg plank will be the next step. Simply take the position of a standard plank and then raise one arm and the diagonal leg.
Superman plank will make the gap between the supporting points bigger. Therefore, the part in between has to work harder. In general, that means that the further out you can place your hands the harder the exercise will be.
Please also notice that the shoulders and the upper back will have to work in a different way than a standard plank. You can say that this exercise will require your complete body to be engaged.
One arm and/or one leg Superman plank, As with the standard version, we can remove some of the supporting points to make it even more difficult.
Side plank progression
We discussed that it’s the gravity that we have to work against in the standard plank. As it’s pulling us down, we need to stabilize on the rear and front side.
This also means that the core muscles on the sides are taking a lesser hit. By raising a leg or an arm from the ground, they will have to contract more in order to stabilize, however, if we really want them to work, we need to apply a side plank.
When we talk muscles, it’s the obliques that require more work than in a traditional plank, as well as the muscles that are running on the sides of our legs.
The main focus for the side plank is simply to keep the body in s straight line from heels to head. The supporting arms elbow should be directly under the shoulder.
Side wall plank is also the beginning point, just like the standard plank. With your side to the wall simply place the forearm against the wall and place your legs as far away from the wall as possible. The elbow should be at same height as your shoulder.
Side plank with bent legs means a smaller gap between the supporting points and therefore easier to hold.
Side plank with two supporting legs will be easier than the standard as we have more supporting points. The distance between the legs will also have an impact on the difficulty of the exercise.
Standard side plank is performed as described above. The upper leg is resting on the supporting leg and will also be part of the stabilization.
Star plank is the hardest version as we take one supporting point away by raising the upper leg.
Above you got the different plank versions in ascending order.
For a plank progression template, I would select a version where I could do 2-3 rounds of the 30sec hold with a good form. Then progress in the following way.
Round 1) Select an easier version than the one I can hold for 30sec and then try to hold it for 60sec
Round 2) Select the one I can hold for 30sec and hold it for 30-45sec
Round 3) Select an easier version than the one I can hold for 30sec and then try to hold it for 60sec
Round 4) Select the one I can hold for 30sec and hold it for 30-45sec