The Plank is one of those exercises that are infamously known for its ability to strengthen the muscles of the abdomen as well as the joints. However, this exercise movement has far more benefits than just toning the abs. In fact, it is one of those exercises that can tone and strengthen the entire body. As such, it is able to help improve one’s balance and overall flexibility. It is also able to improve posture, core definition, mental clarity, and one’s metabolism.
Additionally, the plank exercise works basically all the muscles of the core, which include the rectus abdominis (what is usually designated as the six-pack), transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques, the hips, and the back. It is also said to be able to strengthen the spine, shoulders, glutes, and triceps. While the plank has the ability to impact many muscles of the body in a single instance, it is always best to ensure that you are performing other exercises for optimal fitness.
You can do so by creating a fitness routine to include exercises that can work various parts of the body on a daily basis. However, here, in this article, we will focus on the ‘mighty; plank, its benefits, and how to do it. You will also be able to download your free ‘Plank Challenge’ so that you can begin to experience the benefits of this great routine, right in your very living room. Let’s discuss!
You can learn more about how to create a fitness routine here.
The plank is an exercise that seems to have quickly climbed to fame status over the last few years. One of the reasons for its esteem recognition in the fitness arena is due to its many benefits to the body when done properly. The plank is an isometric exercise. Isometric exercises are those movements when performed, strengthens specific muscles or parts of the body against another without much movement in the angle of the joints – static contraction (Sport-fitness-advisor.com). Other types of isometric exercises include isometric pushups, wall sits, and bridges.
Overall, isometric exercises can help to improve the body’s ability to hold a particular position for an extended period. Therefore, isometric exercises, especially the plank, are usually recommended for weight loss programs, body toning as well as the prevention of low back pain (Ekstrom et. al.2007; Stensvold et al., 2010). However, most plank training programs are concentrated mainly on strengthening the muscles of the core and limb muscles (Ekstrom et al. 2007).
According to research, the plank is designed to use bodyweight to resist gravity (Lee et al. 2016) and can be done using several variations while still impacting multiple muscles and the body’s overall performance. Two (2) of the most well-known plank are the forearm plank and the side plank, which is a common variation. In the forearm plank, the body is held in a push-up-like position with the body’s weight supported by the forearms, elbows, and toes.
Another great thing about the plank is that one does not have to be an athlete to perform it or any of its variations. Therefore, anyone can benefit from adding it to their daily exercise routine. As such, it will be beneficial for anyone that wants to strengthen and tone the core while improving the body’s overall endurance. According to Key (2013), the core muscles are the deep and shallow muscles of the human anatomy. These muscles work to stabilize the spinal column, align the body as well as enhance sports performance when the extremities are moved. Therefore, while some persons may consider the plank solely as an abdominal exercise, it is scientifically far more than ‘just another core exercise.’
In this article, we will be exploring five (5) of the main benefits of performing the plank exercise. These include its ability to improve overall balance and stability, strengthening the core muscles, improving mental clarity, helping to alleviate lower back and neck pain, and increasing one’s metabolism. We will also discuss some of the fundamental questions that have been asked when performing this exercise.
Five(5) benefits of the ‘Plank’ Exercise:
- Improving overall balance and stability.
- Strengthening the core muscles.
- Improving mental clarity.
- Helping to alleviate low back and neck pain.
- Increasing one’s metabolism.
1. Improving overall Balance and Stability
Do you remember trying to stand on one leg but couldn’t help but toppling over? Well, any imbalance or deficiencies in the core muscles can cause issues with endurance, the maintenance of balance as well as the prevention of injuries, especially for those who participate in rigorous sporting activities. As such, strengthening the trunk and core muscles plays a pivotal role in stabilizing the spine, helping with free movement of the upper and lower extremities as well as with posture (Kisner C, and Colby, 2012).
Further, strong core muscles are needed to help you perform various movements throughout the day. This is due to the fact that the muscles of the abdomen are closely related to the stability of the lower trunk muscles which are paramount for movement and postural control (Kim et al. 2009). Accordingly, exercises of the core are important to our body’s stability and balance so as to help with the development of force and motion, especially in the limbs (lower extremities). (Rivera, 2016).
To this extent, targeted exercises like the plank have been proven effective in strengthening the core, which can result in building balance and stability as well as endurance when performing physically exhausting activities.
2. Strengthens the Core Muscles
As indicated, the core muscles comprise several muscle groups of the body that covers the abdominal, back, pelvis, hips, and buttocks. As such, if your core is weak, then you may not be able to perform certain activities, which require bodily strength. Furthermore, a weak core will affect one’s posture which can lead to back and neck pain.
Additionally, it is always wise to perform exercises that can strengthen the core muscles, as these muscles are needed to not only protect the body’s spine from the excessive force but also in stabilization and force generation, particularly when performing rigorous activities. (Kibler et al. 2006). As such, the training of the core muscles has become a common practice for rehabilitation purposes as well as in fitness. This is because plank exercise has been proven to assist with core muscle strength which in turn helps with endurance, stability, and injury prevention.
The subject of plank and injury prevention was observed in a study conducted by Blassiman et al. (2018). In this study, a total of seven (7) studies constituting over Two Thousand (2,000) participants were reviewed. Two (2) of the studies found a significant reduction in the rate of injury in the group of participants that were mandated to incorporate both regular and side planks in their training programmes. However, the participants in the remaining five (5) studies did not realize any significant changes in the degree of injury.
While the researchers found discrepancies in the studies in respect to the methods used as well as the type of interventions adopted, meaning, those with planks or other specific movements, the researchers did conclude that preventative programmes that incorporate strengthening exercises for core muscles, usually observed a positive effect as it relates to the rates of injury.
Nonetheless, more studies were reportedly required, especially as it relates to the application of plank exercises or other routines geared at strengthening the core as an isolated movement, rather than as part of an already existing fitness routine.
3. Improves Mental Clarity
In general, physical activities have been shown to help with mental health as they have the propensity to reduce some of the risk factors associated with one’s mood and mindset. As such, research has shown that physical activities can reverse some of the effects of a sedentary lifestyle and thus contribute to the delaying of brain aging and degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, etc (Di Liegro et al. 2019).
Planks, like many other physical activities, are able to induce the release of the protein BDNF or what is called a brain-induced neurotrophic factor into the hippocampus region of the brain. The hippocampus is a major component of the brain that is responsible for the regulation of one’s mood among other things. The presence of brain-induced neurotrophic factor (BDNF) protein triggers the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus which then improves communication between the cells. (Sleiman et al. 2016). BDNF was also purported to be associated with cognitive improvement as well as the relief of depression and anxiety (Sleiman et al. 2016).
This increase in communication between the cells invokes that ‘feel-good mood,’ which is what we all feel when we finish a workout, even if we were feeling crummy a few minutes before. This sense of accomplishment changes mood patterns and thus brings on a sense of mental and physical well-being.
Additionally, isometric exercises like the plank, side plank, wall sits and bridges, have been shown to have a positive effect on mild cognitive decline which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). These types of strength training exercises have been proven to be effective in reducing blood pressure, which is a risk factor of cognitive decline (Hess and Smart, 2017).
4. Helping to alleviate Lower Back and Neck Pain
There is no clear-cut cause, but low back pain is one of the most frequently reported occurring musculoskeletal disorders with a stated lifetime prevalence of Eighty (80%) percent (Rubin, 2007). In fact, a United States statistic indicated that about Eighty (80) percent of Americans will experience lower back pain during their lifetime (Mayer & Gatchell, 1988; Biering-Sorenson, 1982; Damkot et al. 1984) as the annual prevalence ranges between Fifteen (15) to Forty-Five (45) percent (Anderssen, 1999).
Additionally, a research conducted in Denmark denoted that back pain was one of the most common reasons for visits to a General Practitioner (Flachs et.al. 2015). In fact, the research showed that every tenth visit to a General Practitioner and every third visit to a Chiropractor or Physiotherapist had to do with persons suffering from back pain (Flachs et.al. 2015). Worldwide, it was found that back pain constituted for more years lived with disability than any other condition (Hartvigsen et. al. 2018; DALYs GBD et. al. 2015). Consequently, the report concluded that back pain sufferers accounted for a higher economic burden and health care than conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, mental health as well as autoimmune conditions. (Maniadakis and Gray, 2000).
However, while about Ninety (90%) percent of persons who experience back pain will reportedly recover from this ailment within a few weeks, while some others will continue to experiences challenges (Anderssen, 1999). As such, clinical practitioners have purported that exercising and remaining active are frontline interventions in helping people to manage lower back pain, especially persistent or recurrent episodes (Oliveira et al. 2018).
In a study conducted by Kjaer et. al. (2018), it was found that exercises that target the muscles of the back, abdominals, leg muscles, etc, (for example, plank, diagonal arm movements, and leg lifts) was beneficial in helping persons suffering from back pain, especially those with persistent back pain. The study was taken from a combined intervention approach which includes education on back pain and flexibility and the actual exercise movement themselves. Importantly, it must be noted that the study was conducted over an eight (8) week period and covered Sixteen (16) supervised one-hour sessions.
Nonetheless, exercises that involve specific training of the lower back and abdominal muscles or what is characterized as ‘core stability training’ have been mostly recommended for the treatment of low-back pain (Airaksinen, 2006; Borghuis et al. 2008). Therefore, incorporating an exercise like the plank will certainly help those suffering from such conditions, while helping to strengthen the core of others, not yet inflected so as to prevent any occurrence. However, one should ensure that this particular movement is done properly and wisely, and most importantly, not overdo it.
5. Increasing Metabolism
Metabolism is described as the sum of chemical reactions that occurs within the cells of all living organisms which provide the body with energy that is critical for the working of vital processes such as growth, development, and reproduction (Britannica.com). It is also responsible for the synthesizes of new organic matter.
Research has shown that one can increase their metabolism by just simply exercising for a few minutes per day and isometric exercises such as the plank, can be a welcoming addition. In fact, in a study conducted by Petrofsky et al. (2007), it was found that isometric movements had the ability to rapidly increase muscle strength as well as tone the muscles than dynamic movements such as cardio. Further, the study found that the performing of isometric movements had the potential to increase one’s biceps and triceps strength, abdominal strength as well as glutes. The improvement in muscle strength can jointly boost one’s metabolism. Additionally, participants of the study also experienced a significant reduction in their cholesterol and triglyceride levels in performing these types of exercises in just over four (4) weeks.
How to do the Plank Exercise?
The plank has many variations. Variations are usually added to increase intensity so as to achieve particular results. However, the different variations all stem from the basic or traditional plank move or pose – the Forearm plank. This is the simplest form of the exercise which is capable of reaping expected results, all on its own, even without variations. Here are the steps involved in doing the ‘Forearm plank or plank pose.
Steps in doing the ‘Forearm’ or ‘Plank Pose:’
- Start in a position as if you are going to do push-ups by laying face down with your forearm on the floor and your legs extend and your feet close together.
- Raise your body until it forms a straight line from your head to your toes. Your body should be firmly resting on your forearm. Your shoulders and neck should be straight.
- While you are in this position, ensure that your core is tight.
- Stay in this position for a while (30 seconds, 60 seconds, etc), as you take steady and even breaths.
- Return to starting position and repeat if desire.
Three (3) Tips for performing the plank correctly:
- Start off slow and gradually increase your holding time.
- Practice different variations, so as to enhance your endurance.
- Ensure quality over quantity at all times.
Does Plank Duration Matter?
Plank duration has always been an expressed concern by persons when performing the plank. However, we are all unique and are at different stages of health and fitness. As such, starting off slow and gradually increasing your time is always recommended, especially if you have been sedentary for a while. Nonetheless, research has shown that planking for Thirty (30) seconds, as opposed to Fifteen (15) seconds, may benefit the body’s overall health as it is able to stimulate more changes in blood lactate and electromyography (Chwalbińska et al. 1998).
Additionally, a study by Mitranun (2016) showed that performing planks for both Thirty (30) and Sixty (60) seconds may significantly increase systolic blood pressure as well as heart rate. The research concluded that it would be best to perform planks for Thirty (30) seconds when just starting out so as to prevent the dysfunction of the endothelial and you will still be able to reap the benefits. Longer durations can be added afterward so as to improve core strength and endurance.
Dysfunction of the endothelial is a situation in which the inner lining of the endothelial of the small arteries does not function as it should. This can cause several challenges to the tissues supplied by those abnormal arteries. This can initiate cardiovascular issues from hypertension to atherosclerosis (Félétou, 2011).
Are there any Side Effects in Performing the Plank?
Research has shown that exercises with higher loads might induce increments of high heart rate and both systolic and diastolic blood pressure (Terra et al. 2008; Umpierre and Stein, 2007). As such, isometric exercises like the plank might increase blood pressure due to the activation of certain muscles afferents (Maior et al. 2014; Iellamo, 2001).
The research also showed that arterial blood pressure may increase even more in a Sixty (60) seconds plank than one practice for Thirty (30) seconds. So, if you feel dizzy or light-headed when starting out, stop, and probably try again later on. If you continue to feel dizzy or experience other ill feelings, see your doctor before continuing. This should go for any exercise regimen you are considering undertaking, especially if you suffer from certain medical conditions.
Here is a summary of the Five (5) benefits of performing the PLANK EXERCISE.
Let’s Sum Up!
The plank exercise is one of those exercises which looks quite simple, but, when done properly, can benefit every part of the body. This is due to the fact that it is an isometric movement, in that it can impact several parts of the body all in one move. While one might look to changes in their physique as to the benefits of performing planks, research has shown that the performance of this exercise along with other isometric movements can significantly benefit one’s health as a whole. Some of the researched benefits of performing planks on a regular basis include improving overall balance and stability, strengthening of the core muscles, improving mental clarity, helping to alleviate back and neck pain, and increasing one’s metabolism which can benefit overall exercise performance and even weight loss.
But how long should you do the plank? Well, it is always best to start slow and increase as your body strengthens and your endurance improves. However, research shows that planks performed for more than Thirty (30) seconds will not only benefits the muscles more but also provides other biological functions to the body. Longer durations will help with endurance and core muscle strength. So, do you! And listen to your body; if it says ‘stop’, well, we stop. Also, remember to not overdo it. So, now that we have covered the plank – Go, get your fit on!
To learn how to create your ‘unique’ fitness regimen, check out this article here as well as other exercises that can help to strengthen the core muscles here. Remember to download your Plank Challenge here.
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