It’s one of the most popular exercises at gyms and studios, but some experts say the majority of planks aren’t done properly.
“Unfortunately, most people are doing them wrong,” personal trainer Amanda Thebe told Global News. “By simply holding a plank position without creating adequate tension throughout the whole body, they are not getting the full plank benefits.”
She adds planks are isometric exercises, in which the muscles are motionless and under tension. “In addition to strengthening the front and back of the core, your glutes, quads, shoulders and arms are also worked.” And as simple as they look, there’s a lot of work that goes into a proper plank — work that many people don’t put in.
Late last month, emeritus professor and spine researcher Stuart McGill of the University of Waterloo, told the Telegraph holding a plank for longer than 10 seconds was “pointless.”
“There’s no utility to this kind of activity other than claiming a record,” he told the site. “Basically holding repeated holds of 10 seconds is best for the average person. But for people looking for better back health, they should be doing the Big 3 every day.”
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How long should you hold it?
McGill told The Telegraph his research comes from 30 years of teaching spine biomechanics as well as conducting studies. He argues that instead of focusing on the plank, we should be focusing on exercises that strengthen the spine. He also stresses to avoid certain exercises like the “speed sit-up,” which can cause back pain.
Thebe says the plank itself is performed under total tension. “That means from the top of your head to the tips of your toes,” she says. “What is sometimes referred to as a hard-style plank, your body should tremble under the tension you are creating, so that it is basically impossible to hold this for more than 15 to 20 seconds.”
She adds eventually you should be able to build up a longer duration of holding the plank, but it is hard to do so under tension.
“If you are doing a plank and can hang out there easily for a minute or more, then chances are you aren’t doing it correctly. You should be clenching your glutes, like you are trying to eat your shorts, your core should be braced like you are being punched in the gut and you should be squeezing all other muscles tightly so that there is a full body connection.”
She agrees with McGill in a sense that trying to hold a plank for a longer period doesn’t mean you’re getting a better workout.
“It is really important to have good form doing a plank,” she says. “Imagine drawing a straight line from the crown of your head to your heels. We often see the glutes high in the air, so the body mimics a tent shape, or the hips might start to sag, which can put high strain on the lower back.”
Personal trainer Bryan O’Conner of Candiac, Que., says if his client can’t hold a plank for 10 seconds, there may be another issue altogether.
“Either there is a major back issue or the client has a very weak core. A strong core is essential for good health, a strong back, posture, preventing injuries, and playing sports,” he tells Global News.
“If you can hold a plank for 60 seconds or more I consider that ‘strong.’ Less than 30 seconds, you should evaluate why and correct your situation, as you are at risk for back problems.”
He says you should also switch up the types of planks you are doing to get better at holding them and strengthening your core.
Types of planks?
Thebe says before you start getting into variations, start with the basic plank.
“Once you are proficient in a hard-style plank, then you can progress to a pledge plank where you touch the opposite shoulder with your hand. Best performed slowly, this exercise encourages you to resist your body from rotating and has you with just three points of contact on the ground.”
Other variations include a walking plank (moving from elbows to hands, resisting the urge to rock your hips up and down) and another one is the stability ball plank (in which either your arms or your feet are on the ball).
“Lastly, doing a plank using a TRX, where your feet are suspended in the straps with only your hands on the floor, can increase the intensity 10-fold. In any variation it is imperative to maintain a high level on tension throughout.”