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The Better Plank Exercise for Core Strength

sandbag exercises

It was revolutionary at the time, in the late 90’s I had just really gotten into the fitness industry. To be honest, I was debating between being a university strength & conditioning coach or going into the private fitness industry. Hearing some horror stories about long hours, lack of job security, and frustrating circumstances from friends drove me into fitness. Yea, that was WAY better (noted sarcasm). Anyways, the late 90’s was when functional training was really starting to flourish and you couldn’t escape “core talk” and how we trained the core was drastically changing. This plank exercise was becoming a really big deal and for good reason. 

I feel like I have to tell the truth, early on I did plank work because I was told it was really good for core stability. If you asked me why it was really good for core stability I don’t think I could tell you, but other smart people said so! Sadly, I feel like many are in the same boat now when it comes to the plank and really where we can go with core training to such higher levels. 

plank exercise

Before I explain the purpose of the plank, we have seen the natural lack of attention fitness has as a new giant of core training has emerged…crawling. The popularity of crawling comes from mostly the fact people got really bored with holding the plank, no seriously. I think crawling is a great form of exercise as I did it in high school in basketball conditioning. However, I think some of the benefits have been bit over blown. 

So, let’s back up for a second, to understand my point and how we build smarter core training we have to understand the point of the plank in the first place. Leading spine expert, Dr. Stuart McGill was one of the first to help the confusion of the plank and discussed the importance of core bracing. Still confused? 

Imagine you are on a beach and an attractive person walks by, what do most of us do? We tighten up or “brace”. Now, this isn’t exactly the same thing, but it gives you and idea of what I am talking about. Without getting too crazy with the science, the brace of the core during the plank is what gives our spine stability and strength. It integrates all the muscles of the pelvis, trunk, and even some of the shoulder girdle to prevent unwanted motion that can cause injury to the spine. 

With that brace comes a lot of tension. Still one of the most unsung heroes of strength is tension. In fact, Andy Bolton who was one of the first men to deadlift over 1,000 pounds said that strong people all know one thing, how to get tight! 

When you perform a plank correctly you feel this whole body tension and tightness. Of course that becomes fatiguing and we can’t hold that very well for extended periods. That is why Dr. McGill advocates more of ten second hard holds than trying to maintain the plank for minutes upon minutes at a time. 

Cool, soooo what about crawling? Well, the obvious big problem with the plank as I have described it is that you can’t move. If you tried walking down the street in that manner you would look like Frankenstein’s monster and we don’t want that! 

The reality good core strength is being able to brace at the right time! It is moving and knowing how to hold posture and position under different speeds, postures, etc. That is why in the beginning of training we train A LOT of tension and over time we strive for appropriate tension. 

Okay, finally back to crawling. A big reason crawling is a good exercise is because we must maintain our proper core alignment while our arms and legs move. The extremities moving causes instability upon our core and we have to be reflexive in when and how we brace. All things being equal, crawling can be great, but let’s face it, it is VERY hard to do well. 

Like you, I see lousy social media posts of crawling all the time. Instead of doing bad training why not use progression? We have more options and exercises that relate to the plank and crawling than most people think. The strength to hold one’s body up and not hurt the wrist, shoulder, and more is much tougher than most are ready to endure. 

If you are like me and want to give people the best, you have to know where to start. That is where I go back to our DVRT Bird Dog progressions. People continually tend to undervalue these movements and don’t think they are about strength. Performed the right way, with the right speed (which is super slow), we have a drill that I have seen humble some very strong individuals. More than that, we teach how to engage the ground, build shoulder stability, and how to coordinate the limbs to maintain a good plank position in the trunk. 

Nothing in our DVRT system is purely linear, however, we tend to think as we come in more upright positions as more challenging drills because we have to navigate gravity more. That is where many of our press out drills come in handy. This can also be a solution for many of your clients that have issues with their hands, wrists, shoulders, or simply don’t have the upper body strength to create the stability in the bird dog. 

When you see these DVRT progressions though you should see both the plank and crawling. The grip and rip of the Ultimate Sandbag helps integrate the lat/core connection while driving through the feet get the glute/core connection going. Putting them together creates a pretty amazing powerhouse of a drill that LOOKS simple. 

Finally we can build crawling with body weight, but I want to talk about what NOW has become the “in thing”. Which is crawling and dragging weight. As Coach Ian Vaughn talks about in THIS POST, the Ultimate Sandbag is by far the best implement to perform drags with because of the friction it creates with the ground and the connections we can make in our kinetic chains. 

Notice I said DRAG, not TOSS!!! Most people lose most of the great benefit of these exercises because they simply do not understand their purpose. They see a novel exercise and just think they will go to town. That is why Jessica and I have broken down how to perform crawling and drags with the Ultimate Sandbag correctly in the video below. 

Great training can be both hard and smart. That is if you understand the purpose and techniques behind it! If you want to learn more about how our DVRT system continues to change how professionals train then don’t miss our upcoming DVRT live educational programs HERE! Can’t make it? Save 25% on our DVRT Online education with coupon code “spring2018” HERE (does not apply to live events) and find out how creating extraordinary results isn’t as hard as you may think!