It couldn’t be easier right? Get people to plank well and we have great core strength and open the playbook to a whole bunch of really cool core exercises right? The problem is, most people don’t know WHY they even plank. When I was speaking at a recent coaching conference, I asked attendees this simple question, “so why do we plank?” All I ended up hearing was a lot of crickets. I am sure that some were worried that it was a trick question, but unfortunately, other than “working the core”, I’m not sure people know why the plank is a foundational core drill
The purpose of the plank is teach the body how to brace. Um, cool, what does that mean? I like to use the example of being on the beach, someone attractive walks by and what is our immediate response? We get “tight”! No, I’m not talking sucking your stomach, but making yourself create a lot of tension. If that example doesn’t work for you, I love to use my Rocky references. Any time I can work Rocky into things I believe it is a major win!
In many classic and even new Rocky training scenes you see someone throwing a medicine ball into the fighter’s stomach. Now, I’m not necessarily recommending this, but what happens when you see them get hit. Even before the ball hits their trunk, they brace REALLY hard! That is basically the foundation of the plank.
Why do we want to brace? Spine expert, Dr. Stuart McGill explains, “The spine is this beautiful structure that is flexible and allows flowing movement, but requires a 3‐dimensional guy wire system to stiffen and stabilize it when it is require to bear loads. Analysis of the muscular system, together with its associated fascia sheets reveals a clever guy wire system that creates balanced stiffness eliminating the possibility of buckling and injury. The concern is that modern living does not “tune” and train this guy wire system. In many people it lapses into complacency.
The greater the load that is placed down the spine, the greater the need for the musculature to stiffen the spine. How can this be? When muscles contract they do two things: they create force and they create stiffness. Stiffness is always stabilizing to a joint. Thus stiffness prepares the joint to bear load without buckling. Failure to appropriately stiffen is the biggest cause of joint injury, although not the only cause.”
What Dr. McGill is saying is that the core is quite complex. It must be mobile enough to create movement, but also strong enough to bear great loads and resist movement at the same time. When we brace, we basically stabilize the spine and pelvis. That means we make the body able to produce more force because the more stability we can create, so can the force we produce.
Brining up this whole discussion is to point out that our plank work needs to be deliberate, we need to know HOW we are creating this tension and stability. If you have been following us for any time, you may already know the answer, we use the feet and the hands!
I know, in a classic plank our forearms are on the ground and that is true. However, we want to drive our forearms in the ground and you immediately find tension in the lats and core. It is also why we want to drive into the balls of our feet when we plank. We create that core stability through the tension from the ground up. When you drive through the feet, you lock your glutes and that helps us stabilize your pelvis.
With those concepts in mind, we can admit that not everyone can hold their entire body in this manner. You now see also why when people go to their knees they often lose core stability, they lose their feet!
Is it bad to go from your knees? Not necessarily, as long as we can integrate our feet. DVRT Master, Cory Cripe, shows a great way we can unload the plank and use these concepts to help people learn the foundations of the plank. “Breaking the Ultimate Sandbag apart” and driving from the bellybutton area helps us create the same plank effect. That, combined with driving through the balls of the feet.
Simply moving to half kneeling is another way to work on the plank, but also introduce the more sophisticated aspects of resisting lateral motion like a side plank. It is THIS reason that Dr. McGill recommends the side plank in his “Big 3” core stability exercises. However, we don’t need to side plank to get many of these benefits, being half kneeling allows us to integrate the feet and can be ore comfortable for many beginning clients.
What the eventual goal is to challenge our ability to plank in more dynamic ways. Cory shows some simple ways to demonstrate these ideas in one of our favorite drills, Up Downs.
However, the big key is knowing how we build success. As DVRT Master, Larisa Lotz shows is a kneeling suspended rollout with USB. She is driving into her feet, pushing down in her forearms, and pulling apart the Ultimate Sandbag to engage everything. Watching her, you will see how she progresses this movement to also enhance mobility!
Think about keeping the plank during these drills…
You will see how this gives us layers to our lateral drag series which is just as much about us pushing down into the ground as it is slowly dragging the Ultimate Sandbag. That is why we just start the movement in creating tension like Cory teaches in our ISO pull at Fitness Lying Down.
What I love most about the last video here is all the levels of the plank we see at Cory’s gym. There is the dead bug being performed in the back and we have highly advanced plank training in rear step cleans. The whole “trick” of the cleans in this manner is to quickly brace by creating tension on the handles and feet as quickly as we can.
If you want to learn more about how to build, progress, and implement these concepts don’t miss our NEW L.I.F.T. certification modules (loaded integrated functional training). You can get our Squatting and Pulling Modules PLUS a FREE Ultimate Sandbag with coupon code “strong25” HERE or get ALL 5 modules a FREE Ultimate Sandbag and Lever Bell with coupon code “lift20” HERE and get a jump on your education that will change the results you get from smarter coaching!
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