Once again, a new longest-held plank record has been set. The record is now over 9 hours! While this is an impressive feat, it should make your eyes roll a bit. Planks are meant to be short and intense, not long and enduring.
There are many planks, but they all share the same goal: to achieve peak core contractions while maintaining a neutral posture. This can be accomplished while prone, on your sides, even standing. It can be done on one leg, one arm, using dumbbells, bands, weighted vests, hanging from straps. The variations are endless.
However, as with many things in life, the fundamentals are the best, and we shouldn’t deviate too far from them too often. Planks are an exercise people often find boring and often move onto their fancier versions. This is most often a mistake, as planks require high intensity while demanding a high level of technique that most athletes are actually not ready for. Advanced variations only set the technical bar higher, making them more dangerous to the user.
As a strength coach, part of my job is to reel my clients back in, teaching them to master the basics of fundamental movements and foundational exercise. So let me share a version of that with planks.
SHORT AND SWEET, NOT LONG AND SLOW
We all know what planks look like, but few know how to properly execute them. As I said before, planks are meant to be short bursts of intensity. Still, they are often butchered by athletes holding them as long as possible, from 30 seconds to several minutes, which inevitably leads to a reduction in intensity. There is only one speed in a 40-yard dash: 100%. Planks should be no different. The all-out intensity or nothing!
The abs are the muscles that transfer force from the legs to the trunk and arms, and vice versa. Holding a plank as long as you can is inevitably an effort to build a slow contracting core. But we want the core to be strong and explosive. Short, high-intensity planks will help us run faster, throw harder, and better absorb forces when we need them most. So let’s go over a strategy to build a strong, explosive, yet resistant to injury core.
ELBOWS DOWN, TOES UP
A great way to teach a more intense plank is from a push-up position. From this position, pull the floor up with your toes towards your hands. At the same time, try to pull the entire earth with your down towards your toes. This will instantly cause a much greater abdominal contraction. From there, it’s up to you to make it as intense as possible. I tell my clients to pull as hard as they can for 10 seconds at a time.
I don’t care if your are an Olympic or professional athlete, 10 seconds of a true, all-out intensity plank for 10 seconds should leave your abs smoked. Here’s a great drill using bands to teach this.
From there, replicating the same intensity from elbows on the floor plank should be easy. Doing these two variations from these fundamental positions are planks you can never grow out of. As you get stronger, you simply pull harder. I recommend doing these 10-second bursts no more than 10 times. If you can go 10 seconds more than 10 times, you need to pick up the intensity. Back to the drawing board.
Resistance Band Plank
Here’s a great drill to do to get a better feel for increasing the contraction. The resistance from the bands forces the abs to work harder to maintain the plank. Here I have some fancy sliders on wheels. You can also use furniture sliders or even plain washcloths, as long as it’s the right surface. Give this drill a try to help get the most out of your planks!