Hey Angels and Alphas,
We’ve talked a lot about the traditional plank and how it’s the worst plank variation out of all of them. But in addition to working your superficial core muscles (or the muscles that make the “six-pack” shine with all its glory, the plank also targets the transverse abdominis (if done right) – a deep abdominal muscle that plays an essential role in keeping our trunk stable during movement.
And when it comes to the science, research in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise suggests that core stability is absolutely vital to preventing lower-body injuries in both gym-goers and professional athletes.
Not to mention, plank variations are easy to learn, require basically zero equipment, and they’re a great way for both beginners and advanced exercises to target key core muscles.
That being said, performing planks with poor form will limit the benefits of the exercise… and will increase the risk your lower back or shoulders get injured.
Here are some of the most common plank mistakes you want to avoid if you want to reap the maximum benefits from your core training.
#1 LIFTING YOUR HIPS (OR SAGGING THEM.)
When you’re doing a plank, you want your body to basically form a straight line from your shoulders to your feet. If you want to achieve this position correctly, you need to engage the muscles in your core… and keep them firing for as long as you are holding the plank.
That being said, if your ab muscles are simply not strong enough to support your full body yet, you are likely going to start compensating for this movement by either pushing your hips toward the ceiling or sagging them toward the floor.
In either case, you are moving your hips out of alignment and decreasing the activity of the muscles in your abs which then decreases the effectiveness of the exercise as a whole.
Furthermore, sagging the hips puts extra pressure on your lower back, increasing your risk of injury and back pain over time.
Here’s your fix: perform the plank in front of a mirror so you can continuously check if your entire body is in a straight line from your shoulders to your feet. If you find that you cannot hold the plank without lifting your hips or sagging, find a way to modify the exercise by elevating your hands on a bench, counter, box, or another stable surface. Then gradually lower the incline until your hands are on the floor.
#2 SHIFTING YOUR WEIGHT FORWARD (or backwards)
Sometimes, you can see people at the gym holding their plank with their body weight too far forward or backwards. As when you are allowing your hips to lift or sag, shifting your weight too far backwards or forward is a way of compensating for what’s, in reality, core weakness.
However, when you are throwing your upper body out of alignment, this doesn’t just lower ab recruitment. It also leads to neck and shoulder pain over time. Sometimes, people can shrug up through their shoulders way too much and overuse their traps (which connects the neck to the shoulder.)
Here’s your fix: next time when you get into a plank position, just look down. From there, gauge where your elbows or hands are relative to your shoulders. Usually, your shoulders must be directly in line with your hands. If you can’t hold a plank without shifting your weight forward or backwards, find a variation or modification of the exercise by elevating your hands on an incline.
#3 HOLDING A PLANK FOR TOO LONG…
You heard about that guy who set a world record for holding a plank for more than eight hours? Or have you seen all of these “who can hold a plank the longest” challenges? They’re horrible. Holding a plank for longer than 1 or 2 minutes might not even offer any worthwhile benefits.
If you are holding a plank for five minutes, how exactly does that translate into daily function or even sport-specific performance? If you’re able to keep yourself in a plank position for 1 or 2 minutes without even breaking a sweat, your next step here isn’t to hold it for 5. It’s to find a more advanced exercise that engages your core more.
Here’s your fix: when you’re able to hold a plank for 2 minutes without much effort, switch to a more challenging variation like the plank with leg lifts. To perform this, simply alternate lifting your feet off the floor (and squeezing your glute,) holding briefly while you’re in the plank. Variations of the plank are always better than the traditional one, but especially if you can hold one for long enough, find plank variations that are more challenging for the core and engage other muscles, as well.