All about planks – one of the best exercises for our core!

Do you stress about including core exercises in every workout?

One of the biggest changes I’ve made in my own fitness routines over the last few years is to work on functional core moves that are gentle on the spine. Based on my experiences with disciplines like Balletone & Barre, and through reading the work of Dr. Stuart McGill, I’ve moved away from a lot of spine flexion (such as crunches) and into more core stability moves.

In practice, this looks like more moves like dead bug (unfortunate name!), asymmetric strength moves such as a single-leg deadlift, and planks. In a plank, there is very little movement in the spine; you may add in some leg lifts or knee drops, but the spine remains neutral and the core muscles are braced. This is important as many of us are dealing with lower back issues and repeated flexion of the spine can place a lot of stress on even healthy backs. In addition, we will often use a lot of momentum to do a move like an abdominal crunch and place stress on our neck & shoulders and hip flexors.

There are so many plank variations that you will never be bored with planks, even the set-up itself; you can do a straight arm plank, a plank with dumbbells in your hands, a forearm plank and a side plank. Best of all, we don’t necessarily need to hold a plank for a very long time – according to Dr. McGill, you don’t really need to hold a plank any longer than 10 seconds to get the benefits.

My favourite variations are:

  1. Forearm plank with single leg lift
  2. Forearm plank with arm extension
  3. High plank with dumbbell drag
  4. Low plank to high plank
  5. Side plank with leg lift and arm extension (just looks pretty!)

Setting up your plank for safe and effective work is important. Here’s some tips:

And don’t stress too much about incorporating a full core section into a workout if your workout includes balance and other moves that engage the core. In Balletone, I feel my core working hard in moves like finding the knee and falling side…it’s great to feel the core working hard during cardio.

If you are curious about the work of Dr. Stuart McGill (an expert in spinal health), definitely check out his website or listen to one of the many podcasts on which he has been featured. McGill’s work will make you question traditional core exercises and reevaluate how you train your essential core muscles!

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