Planks are a great exercise to train the core to do its main job: provide a strong support for the spine. By bracing your abs (and basically every other muscle in your body while in the plank position) you’re able to create a stable trunk that safely functions. Strengthening your core through this bracing effect not only creates a taut tummy but can also help prevent injury since other muscles don’t have to jump in to try to do what the core should be doing.
Here are two ways to bump your planks to the next level: SHOULDER TAPS & RENEGADE ROWS.
But first, basic planking MUSTS:
Spine should be neutral…that is, don’t hike or sag the hips and keep gaze in line with spine to keep your neck from bending down or up.
Abs should be braced…contract your stomach by bringing your belt buckle toward your sternum. No loosey goosey relaxed abs here.
Feet can be shoulder-width or wider apart; the more narrow, the more difficult, so widen your stance if you need to.
Shoulders should be stacked over the elbows (if on forearms) or wrists (if on hands).
Ok, now for the level-ups:
SHOULDER TAPS: by lifting one hand off the ground and tapping your opposite shoulder, you’re (obviously) removing one of the points of contact with the ground. The body wants to tilt toward that open space. Don’t let it! This resistance against that tilt is called ANTI-ROTATION. It’s killer for the obliques and excellent to train since another main function of the core is rotation. In the gym, we train the rotators of the core not by rotating (since that can be dangerous to the spine in a non-functional setting) but rather, through isometric holds where you are resisting rotation (called anti-rotation). Was that all gibberish to you? No worries; trust us, this one’s ab-solutely awesome.
RENEGADE ROWS: very similar to the Shoulder Taps but with weights that you pull up by driving the elbow past the body. Things to keep in mind for both the Shoulder Taps and Renegade Rows: 1. Make sure you’re in your “Basic Plank Position” (see criteria above) 2. Take extra care to stack shoulders directly over wrists 3. Take extra care to brace abs. Imagine how you’d contract your belly if someone was going to punch you. Now hold that contraction (while still breathing)! 4. Your hips will want to tip back and forth as your arm comes off the ground. Don’t let ’em! The stiffer you can keep your abs and hips, the better. There should be very little to no rocking. It helps to focus on driving your arms into the ground!
If you notice you can’t quite lock those abs and hips in the correct position, keep working on your basic plank until you develop more core and hip stability. It will come!
Enjoy, Jessica + Team Valeo
PS – Click below for a quick video showing me doing these two exercises – the right-wrong-right way.