We go on about doing the plank all the time. Why? Because there isn’t another exercise that does so much for so little effort. The plank absolutely delivers. Once you’ve been shown how they are easy to do. You can also do them just about anywhere. In our opinion it is the best exercise for core conditioning. It improves posture, supports a properly functioning and stable back, enhances overall movement and coordination and, of course, tones your midsection.
You can also spice them up after a while to include doing them on your palms, on your side or using an unstable surface, such as on a Swiss-ball.
So what’s so good about them:
The plank increases stability in your core and safely
You will experience a loss of stability as weakness. The muscles of your low-back are probably pretty strong, what’s really wrong is your stability. What you are feeling is the reluctance to do work by a vulnerable back that’s unstable. Stability is the key – which is why we talk about core stability and not core strength. Stability is a result of how well your low-back functions. If your brain can competently control the muscles in your back, then your stability will be good. If they can’t then it will be poor. And, if your stability is poor, then bending over to pull on your socks or pick the shopping out of the car will be risky and can lead to severe low-back pain. This is the ‘unguarded moment’ and it is what we are trying to protect you from.
Planks train the brain to be able to manage your core muscles effectively. The exercise is all about neuro conditioning, not about muscle strength. Doing planks makes the nerves that run your inner core muscles, including the transversus abdominis, work effectively. These nerves will be able to polarize faster and adapt to control fewer muscle bundles giving you better back control.
If your core is poor you will shudder when doing a plank. This is not because you are weak but because your nerves can’t sustain a contraction.
Your six-pack is used to hold your intestines inside and – unless you are hopelessly vain, no one really needs them. Planks alone won’t give you a six-pack. However, if paired with a quality diet and total-body cardio and strength exercises planks will help you develop definition in your middle if you do care.
A competent core means less slouching at your desk
Doing planks makes your back function well because they work your entire core. This includes the whole trunk from the pelvic girdle to the shoulder girdle. When these muscles are competent you’ll naturally stand up straighter.
Planks also increase the endurance of these muscles. This is the second most important aspect you are trying to increase by doing the plank. If your nerves and muscles have endurance they can hold good posture more effectively and give your back more protection over a longer period.
Good posture means you’re keeping your bones in correct alignment. Since the underlying cause of nearly all back pain is joint compression this is important. Good posture also helps your breathing and how your nervous system functions.
The plank helps reduce back pain
As I’ve mentioned, the plank improves your posture which improves your spinal alignment and so your back health. Good posture keeps your vertebrae and spinal ligaments aligned and free from compression and injury. Planks train the muscles of your abdomen to activate so they support your posture and share in the burden of holding you upright. This means that your back muscles no longer have to do all the work. When your core is stable and you sit up tall with your vertebrae stacked one on the other, as your body is designed. This means you are less likely to develop pain in your neck and shoulders as a result of slouching in abnormal positions.
Better movement and coordination
All forms of the plank train your body to use the core muscles including all the abdominals for stabilization. So, when you run, cycle or swim, the competent abs you’ve developed from planks mean that you’re more efficient. This also means that you can transfer power from your legs and glutes more effectively. This is one of the reasons why rugby players spend so much time working on their core stability.