Let's be honest - we all dread when the time comes for core work!
It can be grueling and feel like time has stopped. But there must be a reason why planks are a mainstay of fitness programs, right? So what is it about this exercise? Do they have a secret power, like helping with weight loss? If so, how can you get slim and trim by working your core?
BREAKING DOWN THE POSITION
The plank is an exercise done to strengthen the abdominal muscles. You can do it anywhere, and don't need any special equipment, nor anyone to spot you. That said, we don't recommend breaking out your plank in the middle of the street. That would be a bit weird, don't you think?
The exercise consists in holding a static position for a certain amount of time. And that's it! Just hold. Even as you break a sweat, start shaking, turn red and start listing all the types of birds you know until the time's up. You should set up on your forearms, legs straight, balanced on your toes.
But take note! You need to watch your form. The biggest pitfall is having your bum too high. If your body looks like an inverted V instead of a straight board, you're doing it wrong. But we get it - it's much easier that way.
Once you're in the right position, you need to engage your abs. They'll actually do this automatically. To make this exercise more effective, you should also contract your thigh and glute muscles. Doing this means your lower body has to work along with your upper body, which is the focal point of the exercise. If you've never really done planks before, you can start with a modified version. Instead of coming up on your toes, you can stay on your knees and raise your calves.
For the plank to be effective, it's important to use the right technique. It's not easy, but you'll see results in record time. The reason the plank is such a good exercise comes down to the time-to-effects ratio. In other words, doing it right will give you visible results very quickly (two weeks, to be precise). When you're trying to get in shape, seeing the benefits of the work is what it's all about. Results are what keep you motivated to keep going and working harder.
CAN CORE EXERCISES MAKE YOU LOSE WEIGHT?
Unlike classic ab exercises, planks are a much more efficient exercise. You'll see better results, and people tend to do them with better form. You'll work both the superficial ab and deep core muscles. That's what makes the plank a more complete exercise, because the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis and obliques all have to work. Plus, the back muscles get in on the action, too! You'll develop better muscle tone and, as a result, better overall posture. You can stop worrying about looking like a turtle. Besides improving your muscle tone, you'll also get stronger.
Now, let's talk about what you really care about: losing weight. As we've mentioned before, core stability work won't make you lose weight. This myth is a tough one to overcome, but let us explain. First, by improving your muscle tone, your muscles will develop to give you a slimmer figure. This "slimming" effect can be confusing. What's happening is that you lose girth and the muscles look more defined. But that won't change the number on the scales! Does that really matter so much? Weight loss will give you a slimmer figure, but so will core stability work. The second reason is the "virtuous circle" effect. When you do a physical activity, such as core stability exercises, your appetite decreases, which has knock-on effects. In other words, after going to all the trouble of doing a plank, there's no way you'll be in the mood to go down a Big Mac and fries. The virtuous circle of "sport + a healthy, intuitive diet” tends to happen naturally, and weight loss is one positive consequence.
If you want to lose weight, core stability work is a perfect complement to your cardio activity. Along with a healthy diet, of course.
Planks have many more benefits in addition to supporting weight loss. Here are a few:
- Strengthening of the pelvic floor muscles.
- Better overall posture.
- Improved balance.
- Reduced appearance of cellulite when you also do cardio.
- A healthier lifestyle.
- Greater mental strength.
- Prevention of pelvic organ prolapse and incontinence.
Not bad for such a quick exercise, don't you think? And there's no reason to overdo it - remember, all things in moderation.
THE INS AND OUTS OF A GOOD PLANK
STEADY GOES IT
To make the most of your core work, it's important to be consistent. That does not, however, mean you have to do only planks each and every day. This is one exercise to have in your fitness arsenal. It should be part of an overall fitness programme.
Ideally, you should do your plank during a longer workout. Think after Pilates class, running, boxing, dance class - add your 30-second plank and you're done!
As for how long you should hold it, 30 seconds is the minimum. Ideally, you should increase the time to up to a minute. To get there, start with 30 seconds the first week, then do 45 seconds etc. If you're more advanced, and can already hold a plank for three minutes, know that it's better to do three sets of one minute, with 20 seconds of recovery between sets. You'll see results fast - just be sure to listen to your body and increase the time gradually.
If you're on your own, grab your phone and start the timer, or count in your head (this can be a great way to distract yourself!). And speaking of distraction, here's a tip: try thinking about something else - your plans for the day or the weekend, etc. - so as to not stay focused on the pain. Another important tip: remember to breathe! It can be easy to hold your breath, but this only makes it harder.
One last thing - there are various plank positions. For example, you can twist to either side for a side plank. Or, you can alternate positions to work certain muscles more and break the monotony. Not to mention all the sports that work your core without your even having to think about it: skateboarding, surfing, dance, yoga, to name but a few.
Who knew that the little old plank had so much to offer?
THE DANGER OF CHALLENGES
The danger is real! Every day there seems to be a new online challenge that sounds too good to be true, such as "get the body of your dreams in 30 days". The idea is , to do a plank for a longer time every day.
The first problem is that you'll see limited effects if you only do a plank. The second problem is that doing just one exercise can cause pain. The body needs to work in a balanced way. The third problem is that who can really do a plank for five minutes anyway?! And more to the point, why would you want to?
It will do more harm than good. Harm to your self-esteem if you can't do it, and harm to your body because overdoing it is no good for anyone. By holding a plank for too long, you'll likely start compromising your form, which can lead to injury.