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If you have been to a fitness facility or a Yoga class you probably have a good idea of what a plank is. In fact, you may hate them because they are hard, and get pretty boring. If you are simply just trying to hold a plank position for an extended period of time you are missing out on all the benefits that planks with movement can do for you. To hold a plank is one challenge, but to stabilize and hold while you perform movements with your arms and legs is a whole different challenge.
The whole point of a plank is to stabilize the lumbar spine and keep the spine in neutral position while engaging your core muscles to become stronger. In the real world setting or in sport, we hardly have to engage our core this way. Instead, we have to engage our core muscles and stabilize our spine when we run, jump, walk, and lift objects. This is referred to as “dynamic stabilization.” Try these 5 dynamic planks to increase your core strength, while improving performance and reducing the risk of pain and injury.
#1 Lift Your Legs
The first step to increasing the intensity of the plank is to simply lift your leg 6-12 inches from the ground. Sounds easy, but remember, you must keep the spine in a neutral position while doing this. By lifting your leg also causing hip extension to occur, thus engaging another important muscle to work, the glutes. An easy way to see if you are keeping a neutral spine is to either put a glass of water on your lower back or a wooden dowel rod across your spine. Then you will really see how tough it can be. While balancing in a plank position on your forearms and toes, lift your right foot off the floor, holding your leg about 6-12 inches above the floor for three seconds. Return right toes to the floor and repeat on left side. Avoid tilting your hip upward or sideways as you raise your leg. Alternate legs, doing 10 reps total.
#2 Reach with Your Arms
The concept stays the same as above, but you will notice that this is harder than lifting your legs. Start with your legs spread farther than shoulder width to help make it easier to not shift your hips. Reach straight out in front of you and pause for 3 seconds, and then repeat on the other side. As you become stronger narrow your stance with your feet. Perform 5-10 reps on each side.
#3 ABC Stability Ball Plank
This one has to be one of my favorites! Place your forearms on a stability ball in a plank position. Start with slow and small movements with your arms as if you were drawing the ABC’s with them. Make sure that ONLY your arms are moving and nothing else, and keep your spine neutral. Always make sure to keep glutes and stomach muscles tight. As you improve go faster with bigger movements. Try doing this for 45-60 seconds. This exercise has been scientifically studied to be one of the best exercises to activate your deep core stabilizer muscles at McGill University in Canada. The leading researchers in back and core health.
#4 Don’t Forget the Side Plank
Side Plank is great to engage the lateral core stabilizers such as the oblique. It also allows us to work each side oppositely to help reduce muscular imbalances. While just holding a plank is beneficial by itself, adding dynamic movements will increase its benefits. Trying adding a hip lift and rotation to the mix. Simply get into a standard side plank position then lower your hip to the ground. Softly touch your hipbone to the ground then elevate back up into a side plank position. When your reach the top rotate your upper spine as if you were trying to reach underneath the side of your body with the arm that is not on the ground. 10 slow and controlled reps on each side are sure to do the trick.
#5 Try the Suitcase Carry- The Walking Plank
Grab a dumbbell or a kettlebell that would be demanding to carry in only one hand for about thirty- to fifty- yards. Make sure to maintain superb posture at all times as you walk that distance. Switch hands and repeat. The reason this works so well is the opposite side core is trying to dynamically stabilize the spine while you hold the weight and move with it. Makes sense why it is so hard to carry that baggage through the airport with one hand! Those deep core muscles have to stabilize and work to help support your body just like a plank. The suitcase carry is by far the most functional type of plank to improve dynamic stabilization. Give it a shot and you will see the benefits in no time.
Justin Grinnell is the Owner of State of Fitness in East Lansing, Michigan. State of Fitness opened up just four years ago and is already one of the leading training facilities in the Midwest. State of Fitness has over 450 members who train every day under his leadership. In addition to being a facility owner, Justin has his own blog at www.grinnelltraining.com (link below), and has been a featured writer for over 6 years in the magazine Healthy & Fit and is a writer for Muscle & Fitness.