Almost like a rule, after weight training, we usually go straight to abs workout and then…you know the drill. Don’t you think it’s time we made some changes?
Yep, my friend, if we don’t give our organism some kind of “scare”, nothing will ever change and we won’t see much progress. When it comes to abs, the Plank Training is one of the main innovations: it consists in plank-based workout combined with static exercises with one or more hands or knees on the floor.
At first, the movements are done on prone position (chest down) where most of your trunk support happens by isometric contraction, that is, statically. The most popular isometric method is the isometric abs plank.
“That’s a position that requires strength from all your core (pelvic complex, lumbar and abs), shoulders and gluteus, in which time sets (and not the conventional repetitions) are preferred. In general, this time varies from twenty seconds to one minute and thirty seconds”, according to Théo Vieira, a physical educator specialized in Kinesis Functional Training at C.H.E.K. Institute in Vista, California, who is as well a coordinator at Planet Sport Academia, in São Paulo.
A Bit of History
The plank training stems from a group of functional exercises. “The physical functionality of the human being has been tested ever since the ancient times, just as well as it has been a matter of survival. Therefore, functional training is not that new”, Vieira points.
In Ancient Greece, the athletes developed techniques of specific training in order to improve performance. Such practice was also used in Ancient Rome among the gladiators. Later, in 1925 in Poland, we hear about the origin of Gymnastics in the Workplace. It focused on postural compensation and some kinds of planks were also employed by this method.
In 1930, Royal Huddleston Burpee, a physiologist from Nova York, came up with the first version (the light type) of Burpee, a variant of the plank, but with gestures rather dynamic. The four movements done in a row came from a physical aptitude test, not a training method per se.
More recently, in the USA, Paul Chek developed a functional training system focused on the basic movements of the primitive man, which the modern man does too. Again, new plank variations came about, just like the use machines. From such variations, new combinations were created too.
“At the very same time, the first studies on high intensity training – aka HIIT – appeared in Japan. From this method, American professionals started using stations with dynamic planks, gradually creating the method which uses only variants of the same kind of exercise”, adds the physical educator.
Conventional vs. Plank Training
It’s hard not to compare the traditional exercises with the Plank Training. This is what I’ve found, basically: “Regular core training requires the flexion of the spine. When it comes to Plank Training there is no need for the back to bend, making the exercise safer for you”, explains Ricardo Avelar,a physical educator at Academia Arena Health Center, in São Paulo.
Conventionally, core exercises are segmented. That is, they are in general isolated from other muscle groups, generally prescribed with a specific number of repetitions and longer intervals, which lowers strain as a whole and is reflected in the calories you burn during and after the workout.
“The planks, in turn, are integrated. Which means they require the other muscles as well as the deep ab muscles to work. I know that can sound a bit strange, but the biggest difference about this kind of training isn’t only the isometric system, but mainly the afterburn effect it generates”, Vieira points out.
According to the physical educator, the number of calories burnt is higher than those burnt during the conventional ab trainings due to, precisely, the integration of the muscles and the system of sets and shorter intervals, which increases the EPOC (Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption).
And that’s not all: with the Plank Training, our shoulders are involved as well as the core, which consists of 29 pairs of muscles that involve our center of gravity and whose function is to give support to the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex, which provides stability to the back, pelvis and the kinetic chain during the functional movements.
“The core consists of the following muscles: femoral biceps, transverse abs, multifidus, adductor, erector spinae, internal and external oblique, iliopsoas, gluteus maximus and rectus abs. This way, a suitable core training needs to take all these muscles into account”, explains Cau Saad, a personal trainer.
Who can do it?
As I think you know already, it’s needless to say any training requires body awareness and a lot of focus on the exercise. And the lack of that on the core could lead to decreased efficiency of the movements and compensation patterns. That’s why the workout program has to be designed little by little and depends on the correction of possible imbalances for anyone doing it.
“Every human being needs movement, physical exercise and training as part of their routine. But for that, they’ll need to know their training levels, their physical needs, health pattern, likes and dislikes as well as individual possibilities”, states Alex Souza, a physical educator and a partner at FIT360, a fitness center in Santo André.
In a nutshell: anyone can do it, but you must have the slightest body awareness. If you don’t, then you should start out with basic exercises and very carefully. Plus, alternating the Plank Training days can be a very good idea, once our body takes up to 48 hours to recover the muscles requested, depending on each person’s level of fitness.
But how about the results?
Of course the Plank Training alone is not going to work like magic, but if you work out regularly and keep a healthy diet, it’s possible to notice the first results after 12 sessions – around 1 month training. Among which: weight loss, lean mass gain and, as a consequence, strength, better conditioning and posture.
And if you feel like giving your workout a boost, some accessories might give you a hand: Elastic bands (theraband, miniband, superband), dumbbells, ankle weights, TRX, Pilates Ball, Balance Cushion, Bosu, Step, among others.
Plank Training now!
So now with what everyone has been waiting for: the training I always ask the professionals. Check out what they prepared for us.
- Isometric Plank
Starting position: kneel down and, keeping your elbows bent, place them on the floor, keeping them aligned with your shoulders in prone position (chest down).
Activity: place your weight on your toes as to keep them on the floor. Do not separate your toes. Keep them close to each other. Keep your upper back sufficiently straight. Avoid dropping your hips below your upper back line. Make sure your thighs, knees and hips are well aligned with your back, as if you were standing. Keep looking down so that your neck and back are in neutral position in order to avoid cervical compression.
Frequency: keep the position for around 20 seconds. The interval should be also 20 seconds long. Repeat the movement 5 times. Remember to inhale and exhale spontaneously.
- Planks on your hands
Starting Position: the same pose as the Isometric Plank, but on your hands instead of the elbows.
Activity: your hands should be aligned with your shoulders. Bend your elbows slightly. Keep your back straight and firm as to avoid the abduction of your shoulder blades.
Frequency: keep the position for about 20 seconds with 20 second breaks. Repeat the movement 5 times.
- Side Planks
Starting position: on your side, place your right elbow on the floor and your left hand on your waist.
Activity: lift your hips, forming a diagonal line from ankles to shoulders. Make sure your trunk is completely aligned with your head and neck.
Frequency: keep the position for about 15 seconds, with 20 second breaks. Repeat the movement 5 times.
- Inverted Planks with knee tuck
Starting position: sitting down with your legs extended, keep your knees aligned with your ankles, place your hands on the floor behind your gluteus, fingers pointing outward.
Activity: lift your hips, extending your arms, keeping your knees bent and feet on the floor. Your knees and shoulders should be completely aligned on the horizontal plane. Your neck should be projected completely forward. Keep looking up. Your body should form a diagonal starting from your feet to your shoulders.
Frequency: keep the position for about 25 seconds, with 20 second breaks. Repeat the movement 5 times.
- For perfect planks, your body has to be sufficiently aligned. Your posture must be fixed all along as if there was a straight line from head to toes. Keep your neck in the standard position too. Don’t ever bend it.
- Keep your shoulders stabilized so that your upper back won’t bend.
- It is imperative to keep your abs contracted, activating the transverse and the rectus muscles. If you don’t squeeze your abs, all your efforts could be in vain. Squeeze and hold your abs tight. By contracting your lower abs and pelvis, you’ll be correctly transferring your weight to your toes.
- Don’t bend your lower back too much as that could increase the tension on the area.
Let’s warm up!
Start your engines and get your Plank Training done right away. Let me know how it goes later on.