Plank Exercises = Strong Core
Back and abdominal muscles are vital for every function in our daily lives, yet most people do not exercise these core muscles enough and are prone to back pain and injury.
Strengthening core muscles helps with balance and prevention of falls, which is important as we age. Unlike our limbs, which are used constantly in walking, climbing, running, and lifting, the muscles of the core are not used as much and must be strengthened to improve function and prevent pain and injury.
The muscles of the core are muscles that move, stabilize, and support the spine. The rectus abdominis muscles are used to bend forward or curl up when performing a crunch. The erector spinae muscles are used to bend backwards or stand up straight from a bent over position. The oblique muscles help in rotation of the trunk, bending side to side, or forward bending and flexing. The transverse abdominis is the deepest of the abdominal muscles, below the internal obliques, and provides stability to the spine.
The plank is a popular and excellent core strengthening exercise and can be performed with many variations, from beginner level to the advanced.
Beginner's plank: With knees on the ground in a push up like position, support the body weight with forearms resting on the mat, keeping elbows directly below shoulders, making sure the back is completely flat and hips are not sticking up. Pulling in the abdominal muscles toward the spine, hold this position for 30 seconds, working up to a minute.
Have a friend check your form to make sure your body is in a straight line. Remember to breathe. Once this has been mastered, move on to the plank.
The plank: In the same upper body position but with the lower body in a push up position on your toes, make sure that the body is in a straight line from the head to the feet, with abdominal muscles pulled in and hips in alignment. Hold for 30 seconds and then up to a minute or more.
To make the plank more challenging, lift one leg off the ground and hold, making sure the core is engaged and back muscles are not straining. Hold for up to a minute and repeat with the other leg.
Side plank: To strengthen the oblique muscles, lie on your side, resting on your forearm with elbow directly under the shoulder, and keeping the body in a straight line from head to feet. With your abdominals contracted, lift your hips off the floor, maintaining alignment. Breathe and hold this position for 30 seconds working up to a minute. Switch to the other side and repeat.
Ball plank (more advanced): Lie on your stomach on a small to medium sized exercise ball with your feet touching the floor behind the ball. With palms on the floor, move forward, contracting abdominals so the ball is at your thighs. Palms should be shoulder width apart and directly below shoulders. Keeping your balance, hold for 30 seconds or longer. Once this is mastered, position the ball closer to the feet.
Ball plank with roll in (most challenging): With the ball closer to the feet, body aligned, and abdominals contracted, slowly roll the ball in closer to your palms moving the knees toward the chest. Keeping your balance, roll the ball back to the start position, and repeat, maintaining good form.
As core strength improves, increase time and frequency for all exercises. Finally, if you have any existing back or upper body pain or injury, please check with your doctor before beginning these exercises.
[Aarti Patel serves as the columnist for Fitness Lifestyle. She has a B.Sc. in Health Information Administration and is certified by the American Council on Exercise as a Personal and Group Fitness Instructor, and Lifestyle and Weight Management Coach. She can be reached at (404)-376-5655; email@example.com. This column rotates monthly along with the Ask the Doctor column by Gulshan Harjee, M.D.]
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