It is something that I struggled with as a coach for a while. I knew the plank was a great foundational core exercise, but I didn’t know where to go from there. Well, what I really mean is I didn’t know how to progress people correctly. Trust me, I had a TON of different advanced plank variations, but I found time after time clients really struggled to do them well. This was especially true when I wanted to teach a client how to maintain their plank while they resisted rotational forces.
Most people don’t realize that the main job of the core is to resist movement. That is why famed physical therapist, Shirley Sahrmann wrote, “During most daily activities, the primary role of the abdominal muscles is to provide isometric support and limit the degree of rotation of the trunk… A large percentage of low back problems occur because the abdominal muscles are not maintaining tight control over the rotation between the pelvis and the spine at the L5- S1 level.”
Every time I tried to teach a client a more advanced plank like a hand to chest touch, they would compensate. The FIRST thing you would see is they would lose the hip extension that is so important in proper plank training. You see the MOST common compensation is people trying to find stability in their plank by moving to hip flexion as you see below.
You see DVRT Master Sean Lettero on the left in a perfect plank with his hips fully extended and his glutes tight from him driving the balls of his feet into the ground. On the right, you can see even when we work with US Marines that we find people that move into that hip flexion. The gentleman closest to us has a “flat back” but has gone into hip flexion and you see the loss of glute tension. This is a BIG difference.
I used to do what a lot of you probably find yourself doing when I saw lifters could get in the right position with their plank. I would get my hands on their hips and try to put them in the right position. Sometimes I could do so with my hands, but as soon as I removed my feedback, their plank went right back to the compensated position. That is when I realized that I wasn’t teaching their bodies to control the movement and needed better progressions.
Plank Solution #1
The first thing I realized was the intent while people were planking was HUGE. Most people didn’t have any deliberate actions when they were planking, they were more of holding onto dear life. Instead, the plank is actually a really strong pushing drill. We want to “grab” the ground with our hands and we want to drive into the balls of our feet. DVRT Master, Cory Cripe does a great job showing this and helping establish our foundation in our most important DVRT Plank that almost EVERYONE misunderstands.
Plank Solution #2
Once we have a good plank, how do we get people to understand how to resist rotation? That is where using the Ultimate Sandbag became an important tool. What I did with using our lateral drags was to make a connection to the diagonal chains of our body that keep us stable during more complex actions like locomotion.
Teaching the body how to engage these chains was the key to helping people learn how to resist forces on the body. The lateral drag plank is about connecting the lats, core, and glutes, it is about creating deliberate tension for stability, it is progressively teaching how to resist rotation. Most don’t realize that drills like hand to chest touches are VERY advanced because they are more reflexive. DVRT UK Master, Greg Perlaki breaks down what most people don’t understand about our plank lateral drags.
The longer and larger dimension of the Ultimate Sandbag creates much more ground friction than a kettlebell which is key in the plank lateral drag. Also having a pliable handle allows us the proper pre-load before we start moving and engage the right muscles! The plank lateral drag is A LOT more than just moving the weight side to side.
Plank Solution #3
Maybe MOST important to what I discovered about teaching these smarter plank progressions is when we introduce a very intense variable like resisting motion, we often have to move back to an easier plank position. That led to re-think the bird dog which is essentially an easier plank position but teaches many of the foundations of how to resist rotation.
The bird dog position offers us some amazing progressions that lead us to move to more advanced plank movements like our lateral drag. Coach Sarah Rippel shows some of the options available in our progressions, but pay attention to the placement of the weight, the positions of the arm, and the timing of the movement!
I break down some key cues in the bird dog plank drags below. However, the point I hope you take away from this post is how much more thoughtful the performance and progression of our plank training should be so that we can truly get the core stability that we want to achieve. These are concepts we teach a lot in our DVRT Online Certifications/Courses. You can save 20% on them HERE and our Ultimate Sandbags HERE with code “save20”
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