Strong bodies make strong runners, and every runner’s fitness journey should include strength work in additional to miles. A top priority for many runners is building a stronger core. These are the muscles that support your torso, and connect your legs to the rest of your body. A strong core is the foundation for a strong stride. And one of the most popular exercise for your core is the plank.
We’ve all heard the benefits of planking, but doing them properly ensures the best results. We’ll cover what that means below, giving you all the knowledge you need to get started with planks.
We’ll discuss what they are, why they are important, how to do them, and mistakes to avoid. By the time you finish this article, you’ll know exactly what to do and maybe you’ll be motivated enough to get on the ground and do one!
What is a Plank?
Let’s start first with the basics of what a plank is. Put simply, a plank is a core-strengthening exercise that will improve your stability. It is similar to another core exercise known as “the bridge.” It involves long-hold muscle contractions, as do many yoga poses.
It’s a very simple exercise that will help you build strength. In some ways, it’s similar to being in an extended push-up position. That sounds great at first – push-ups without the ups and downs! But you’ll feel the burn just as quickly.
Benefits of Planks
The benefits to planks are many. Not only are you getting a great exercise for “your deep inner core” in the words of certified personal trainer Adam Rosante. You’re also getting a workout for your entire body, engaging your arms, glutes, and quads.
Works Your Core
It’s important to work your core, because those muscles support your spine and pelvis, essential components for everything you do on a daily basis. And you don’t need any special equipment. It’s a bodyweight exercise, so all you need is yourself.
For Every Age
Planks are also versatile for a wide variety of ages, kids to seniors. Plus, it’s something that can “grow” with you. If you start to do more strength training, you’ll also be building up your core more too.
Improve Your Posture
In addition, planks improve your posture. If you’re someone like me who struggles to not slouch, planks are a great exercise to start including in your workout routine, helping to keep your bones aligned and giving you more confidence!
Helps Prevent Back Pain
If you suffer from back pain, planks might be a way to help heal your back. By helping to align the vertebrae, you’re taking stress off the spinal region and arranging ligaments in your back. In addition, strong abdominal muscles will ensure that your back feels less weight when you’re standing and walking around.
Because the body uses the core for balance, by strengthening your core with planks, you’ll be improving your coordination. Core exercises teach your body how to work with the muscles and improve your overall ability to work them as a single unit.
Planks will assist help you with endurance, improving your ability to stay balanced even if you’re physically exhausted. It will also help with your mental game if you have difficulties concentrating!
It does make sense that when you work out more, you’ll burn more calories. But what you might not know is that when you work out, your muscles get stronger, and you’ll burn even more calories with those strengthened muscles, including when you sleep!
If you’re someone who likes to sit on the couch and watch Netflix or spend most of your day at the office staring at a computer, planks are a great way for you to get the exercise you need to burn the most calories possible.
You’ll get stronger by doing more planks, but you’ll also become more flexible. In particular, planks improve the flexibility of your posterior muscles, including your glutes as well as your shoulders and collarbone area.
If you think about it, this makes sense because planks are included in many yoga routines, which tend to be heavily focused on flexibility. Some plank variations are even more conducive for flexibility, so if that’s your major goal, be sure to incorporate those.
Makes You Happier
“Wait, what?” you might be thinking. How can something that is so painful after even a couple seconds make me happier? Well, like all forms of exercise, it might help you to release endorphins, which will make you feel better.
Plus, if you’re currently stressed at home or work, doing planks will help relieve that anxiety because you’ll be loosening up your muscles. Planks might not be able to change the circumstances that are stressing you, but they can make your body feel better.
The Most Common Plank Exercise
The most common plank is called the front plank. Start off in the top of a push-up position and ensure that your back is straight and hold for as long as you can. Ideally, beginners should try to reach 30 seconds, but do whatever you can.
You’ll want to make sure that your wrists are lined up with your elbows and your elbows are directly under your shoulders. It’s important to make sure that the form is correct. You should look like a straight line during the entire plank!
Once you’ve done one plank, rest for a minute and then repeat for at least three reps, resting in between each one.
Other Variations of the Plank
There are countless different ways to do planks out there. Just type into Google “ways to do planks,” and hundreds of articles will pop up. We’ll cover a couple different varieties so that you have an idea of different ways to do planks. If you’re feeling more adventurous, definitely check out others!
If the traditional plank is too difficult, you might consider trying the elbow, or forearm, plank. You’ll start in a push-up position but place your elbows under your shoulders and your forearms parallel with the floor.
Your hands will not be touching the ground as they would be in a traditional plank, and you’ll be closer to the ground. If you’re new to planking, especially if you’re a female, this might be a great place to start.
Side planks are an amazing way to strengthen your core. As the name implies, you’re doing a plank from the side. This means that you’ll lie facing one side with your legs fully extended and stacked on one another.
Then you’ll use your elbow and forearm to prop your body up. Your body should be a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles, and your abs should be tight. Hold for as long as you can. Then reserve sides.
Instead of starting in a push-up position, you’ll lie down flat with your back on the ground and then push your hands up by your shoulders. Again, your abs and core should be tight and your hips and torso should be pulled toward the ceiling.
Make sure that you don’t overextend your knees or elbows and look up, not forward or back. Your neck should be in line with your torso. If it’s not, you may cause yourself some neck strain.
Common Mistakes When Doing Planks
There are five common mistakes that beginners often do when starting to add planks to their workout routines for the first time. If you avoid these, you’ll be off to a great start.
Not Keeping Your Back Straight
Your back should not be arched when planking, or you’re going to experience a lot of unnecessary pressure. Make sure that your core and abs are engaged, or your arms are going to get tired and you’ll start to arch your back.
Make sure that your shoulders are broadened and that you’re working your core muscles. It’s not an upper-body workout; it’s a core workout!
Lifting Your Butt Too High or Letting Hips Sag
The idea is to work your core, so you need to make sure that your butt isn’t too high because then you won’t be doing a plank anymore, and you want to ensure that your hips don’t sag when they start to get tired.
Both of these positions will not work your core as much and put more strain on your back, which is something that you want to avoid. Instead, tuck your bottom in and squeeze your glutes and make sure those hips are where they should be.
If you’re having difficulties, use a bar (or even the handle for a broom if you don’t have anything else!) to make sure that you’re properly aligned. If the bar starts to slide down, then your hips are probably starting to sag.
Keeping Head Straight Instead of Looking Down
Everyone knows that to do a push up properly you look down toward the floor. It would be odd to see someone staring at the ceiling or even ahead. But people tend to put their heads too far back to look at the ceiling or even look straight ahead with a plank.
Not only will this hurt your neck but you’ll also impact the rest of your form. The solution is simple. Look down at the floor and make sure that your head is aligned with the rest of your body. And if you feel like gritting your teeth in pain, feel free!
As you contract and engage your abs, you should be taking deep breaths in and out. This will make sure that your body is getting the air it needs. Plus, it will give you something else to think about instead of how long until your minute is up.
Focusing on Time
As a runner, you know that form is paramount and time and distance come second. If you ran in superb form for two miles, that’s much better than sloppy form for three. It’s the same with a plank. The focus should be on the form instead of the time.
In fact, you might make things more challenging for yourself by being so fixated on time. A lot of your success at doing planks is mental, and you might be better off using a cell phone timer to count up and do it for as long as you can instead of counting down.
You’ll likely be able to sustain proper form for longer, and your focus will be on the right thing—the exercise instead of the time.
In the end, if you’re looking to improve your core in substantial ways, you need to start doing planks. They bring you a host of other benefits as well. Hopefully, this article has given you a good idea of what to do going forward so that you can start incorporating planks into your workout routine!