“I can hold a plank for 5 minutes.” Congratulations? If your goal is win a plank competition keep hammering away, but for those of us looking to run faster with less injury let me cue you in on a little secret: you don’t have to hold your planks longer than 60 seconds.
If you’re a frequent visitor to our articles you’ve heard me beat the topic of core strength to death. I’ve explained the importance of avoiding sit ups and also how to avoid ruining a plank. I’m hopeful that you’ve begun to incorporate them, or at the very list substitute them for your sit ups.
Planks provide stability to your spine, allowing you to control your trunk on your pelvis, while effectively and efficiently transmitting force down the leg, through the foot and into the ground. On the other hand (err… foot?), sit ups create movement around your spine, reinforcing the muscles to be movers, not stabilizers and in the end we want them to prevent movement. Avoiding situps is common practice in the rehab community. You’ll rarely (if ever) see a doctor or physical therapist prescribe sit ups for core strength. In fact, if they’re recommended you should sound a big, loud, hypothetical siren. (You’ll likely want to find someone else). It’s not because we want to rain on your parade; rather, the evidence is fairly lopsided when it comes to your low back, injury prevention, and core strength. Needless to say, planks are the way to go.
Superficially planks seem boring. Staring at the timer only seems to make the seconds tick by slower (much like the microwave / treadmill). No wonder they’re less appealing than their dynamic counterpart—sit ups. However, planks offer a variety of dynamic diversity to build upon. Not only making them more exciting and challenging, but better mimicking the forces of running. I’m not looking for you to tout that you can hold a plank for five minutes. I really don’t care. The goal for your planking routine is to build a base hold (60 seconds) and transition to dynamic movements. The lower and upper body movements of running are important and worth mimicking in your core strength program. A lifted leg or arm creates a spinal pivot point, further challenging your spinal stability.
Building a Plank Program
So the goal here is to build static stability in the spine, transitioning to dynamic stability once the base is established. Your initial goal is to build to focus on achieving a 60 second hold. Once achieved, you should transition away from static hold and begin a dynamic progression. Depending on your current level of strength this may not be a hard task. For others, it may seem daunting. Your positioning during the static plank is key. You’ll want to really lock in posturally, firing 360 degrees around your spine. Doing so will reduce the strain the shoulder and spine.
What’s the best way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
That awkward phrase is also how you’ll approach your 60 second hold. Initially, you’ll be looking to break down the static hold into manageable bites. You’ll want to be challenged, but feel strong through the hold. As you’ll notice below, all plank sets equal one minute. Precisely. As you get stronger you’ll hold longer, but with less reps. Once you hit the one minute mark it’s time to transition to dynamic holds. Core strength can be done often, too. I recommend using it as a cool down or warm up to running. As you’ll see below, it only takes a few minutes.
|Planking Progression: From Easy to Hard|
|Six Reps||Hold 10 Seconds|
|Four Reps||Hold 15 Seconds|
|Three Reps||Hold 20 Seconds|
|Two Reps||Hold 30 Seconds|
|One Rep||Hold 60 Seconds|
Planking is an art of sorts. Too often the plankee butchers the process or simply fails to practice good stabilization techniques. As you progress to dynamic holds and movements, be sure to make slow, deliberate, and controlled movements. You’re look to prevent any and all movement around your spine. Take a look: