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The plank has gotten a pretty bad rap over the last few years with most strength athletes. After all, it’s very little activity compared to a gut busting deadlift. In fact, the current world record for the plank held for time is over eighty minutes, which goes to show just how much of an endurance exercise it is. My personal best is ten minutes for time, but I’m not training for a plank competition, so this was plenty for me.
The strength demands on the abdominals and other core muscles are infinitely higher during a one rep max squat or exploding forwards to complete a takedown in the cage, than during a plank held for time. The truth is there isn’t much point to getting your plank on if you’re a powerlifter or combat athlete training for raw, unforgiving power…until now.
See, the plank, as most people know it, is a pure endurance exercise for chaps like you and me. Only beginners will make significant strength gains by using it in the traditional way, but that isn’t to say that we can’t modify it and make it useful.
Weighted cable crunches aren’t enough these days. Gone are the days of decline bench sit-ups, too. We need to be hitting the core muscles in a way similar to how they’re stressed when we perform in the cage when grappling, scrambling, punching and kicking, using an all-out effort. Even when going for higher reps with heavy squats, there’s a very high demand placed on the core muscles to stay rigid and support the rest of the body. So we have the hardcore plank. With this, I’ve gone from being able to hold the position for ten minutes to making it so challenging that I crumble to my knees within ten seconds.
Now, there isn’t any point in me giving you an anatomy lesson and telling you how the core is important for all this functional mumbo jumbo. This whole functional mid-section crap that has spawned over the last decade in the fitness industry does my head in quite frankly. So called ‘experts’ have made it overly complicated.
“Functional” simply means something that has a significant carryover into your sport/activity, thus improving your performance for that sport. At least for me. Spare me the Bosu and Swiss ball bollocks.
Get into a standard plank position. The feet must be close together with the ankles touching, and you may not clasp your hands together. Take your elbows out a little further than usual. By lengthening the lever, we’re making this exercise much more challenging. Core exercises that stretch out the body into a weakened position like this are fantastic (e.g. abdominal wheel rollouts).
If you’re doing this exercise correctly (the hardcore way), there will be hyperextension, but we want this hyperextension to come from the hips, not the lower back. What I mean by this is that I see far too many people allowing their bellies to sag down toward the floor when performing the plank. This is unacceptable because it places most of the strain on the lower back and enforces poor recruitment of the abdominals and glutes. You simply can’t effectively engage those all important muscles in this posture.
Suck your abs in tight at the belly button. Squeeze the abdominals inward and upward so that your stomach is being pulled up. At the same time, forcefully contract your glutes so that the butt and hips are being pulled downward. Tighten the abdominals and push your hips forward while squeezing the glutes. This is similar to what you want to do in the hardcore plank.
Contract and pull your abdominals upward, focusing around the belly button, while contracting and pulling your glutes downward. Simple. You’ll be doing this as hard and as forcefully as possible (literally as hard as you can). Remember this—if you don’t do this, the exercise is nowhere near as effective for building strength.
Don’t be a dingbat and lift your butt in the air like an downward dog yoga pose. This is the opposite of what we’re looking for. Push your hips forward by pulling your abdominals and glutes inward toward your body.
If you don’t do the above, there won’t be anywhere near as much abdominus rectus and oblique stimulus. When I simply hold the plank for time, my abdominals don’t even feel it. My lower back and shoulders, on the other hand, fatigue first. We don’t want this. You need to build up the abs and glutes. You should be able to crack a chestnut open with those bad boys.
Another important factor here is the legs. You must contract the quads forcefully, straightening them. There must not be any bend at the knee. You’re also contracting your legs inward similar to an adductor machine.
Finally—and this is the kicker that makes this exercise infinitely more difficult than the standard plank for time—you will contract the various muscles in your body as if you were trying to pull your elbows down to your toes and your toes up to your elbows. You should be contracting the lats and triceps, creating a feeling that you’re driving the elbows into the ground and downward toward the toes as well as driving the toes into the ground and upward toward your elbows.
The above must all be done as forcefully as possible. This is an all-out, everything or nothing exercise. Think of it as a plank one rep max if you will. If you’re doing everything correctly, you won’t be able to hold this position for any more than twenty seconds max. If you can hold it for longer, you’re simply not contracting hard enough. If done correctly, you will be dropping to your knees within the ten-second mark.
The hardcore plank is simple and brutally effective and produces real strength. Don’t waste your time with any more namby pamby sit-ups that produce nothing but lower back issues. This is real core training for real strength athletes. Go get your plank on.