Updated: Sep 22, 2021
What is up folks? Today I want to explain and teach you how to properly, safely, and effectively perform one of the best strength-building exercises for your core. The mighty plank. In this blog, you are going to learn a bit more about your core. Which muscles it consists of and their function. You are also going to learn in detail how to start and perform the plank. Why is so effective and how to avoid the most common mistake?
So, let's dive into the core of our body.
Transverse abdominis TVA
This is the deepest muscle of the core and probably the most neglected one. A transverse abdominis is a sheet-like muscle that wraps around all the organs in the gut. It connects the thoracolumbar fascia (the ligament that is located at the lumbar spine), the top anterior portion of the pelvic, and the lower ribs. It is a fairly large muscle, responsible for stabilizing and bracing the core. It creates what`s called intra-abdominal pressure, crucial for the stable and safe position of the trunk, especially when lifting objects. One easy way to highlight TVA is to take a deep breath from your belly and imagine that someone is about to punch you in the stomach. You immediately brace your core, creating that intra-abdominal pressure, stabilizing the trunk, and protecting the vital organs.
These muscles sit right on top of the TVA and are located at both sides of the trunk. Connecting the thoracolumbar fascia, the top of the pelvic, lower ribs, intertwining with the TVA. Those muscles are responsible for side bending and rotation. They are also involved in the breathing process, by acting as antagonists of the diaphragm.
External obliques, as you can probably tell, sit on top of the internal ones. They are the largest muscle of the core. They are attached to the 5-12 ribs, top of the pelvic, and join at the linea alba. Their function is to side bend and rotates the torso, as well as stabilizing the core and playing a role in creating the intra-abdominal pressure.
Rectos abdominus (six packs)
This is the most desired muscle in the entire fitness community. These are two parallel muscles, running vertically from the rib cage to the pelvis, separated by the linea alba. This muscle`s role is to flex the lower spine, or in other words, to bring the rib cage towards the pelvic.
Linea alba is the connection of all those three muscles together (rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques). It is a fibrous structure that can be seen in some individuals as a line that separates the six-packs.
Now we know more about the core. We know that it consists of four muscles. Play a huge role in breathing and stabilizing the trunk, side bending, and rotating. Why is that important? If we want to exercise a certain muscle, we must know how it works, so we can visualize and isolate it. Let me ask you this. Would you rather stay in a bad plank position, poorly activating the core for 2 minutes, or activate the entire abdominal muscles and stay 30 sec? More quality work is always better than quantity when it comes to strengthening and improving a certain muscle.
This exercise is great not only because it activates the entire abdominal muscles. It activates the glutes, the hamstrings the shoulders. It is an active exercise that requires focus, to endure the set amount of time, while keeping breathing and activating almost the entire body.
Regardless of whether you are new to planks or have some experience, I recommend going through the checkpoints and make sure you do it correctly. I am going to show you two variations of plank – plank on the knees and full plank, as well as an exercise that is going to set your core up for the move.
Close the gap.
This exercise is going to teach you how to activate the TVA, as well as preparing you for the right position of the plank, without having to resist gravity.
Lay down with your legs bent at around 90 degrees. Notice that there is a gap, right at your lower back or lumbar spine. Now draw the belly button in and squeeze the glutes. This is going to rotate the pelvic backward, or posteriorly, causing your abdominals to contract. I like to say that if you imagine that there is a bug, an insect that you really dislike, right below the lower back, hiding into that gap, you should try to smash it, by closing that gap.
A progression to that would be to extend the legs.
Hold that position for at least 3 seconds, then relax for 1 and repeat. The number of reps does not matter. It matters the difficulty of it. If you struggle to close the gap and keep it closed, you should aim to get better at this, before doing the plank. If it is easy for you, you are ready to do the plank.
The biggest mistake that I see with planks is arching the lower back. This puts a huge amount of stress in that area and on top of that it is not sufficient. Remember the function of the core. To bring the rib cage closer to the pelvic, right. When the lower back is arched, the muscles that are responsible for that (quadratus lumborum and erector spinae) are engaged, causing the spine to extend. The core is an antagonist, which means that it does the opposite, it flexes the spine. if you want real activation of the core while ding plank, follow those steps and do not allow your lumbar spine to arch.
Plank on knees.
Going to a plank position s fairly easy. The problem is that we only think of keeping that position, without activating the proper muscles.
Imagine there is a string attached to your belly button. It runs through your belly, lower back and is attached to the ceiling. Now imagine that I am pulling the string. Your belly button should go in, engaging the TVA. Now, remember the function of the core. Bring the rib cage towards the pelvic. Think of squeezing the floor, or the matt between your elbows and knees.
Using a mirror, a camera or someone to guide you would be very helpful.
Now if you were able to hold this position for 2 minutes, while being able to breathe and feeling the activation of the core, instead of discomfort at the lower back, you are good to proceed with the progression.
The same rules apply here. It is just harder to keep the position, as the gravity pulls harder.
This is how you should do a plank. Properly and efficiently activating the core, without hurting the lower back. This is going to help you with fighting lower cross syndrome too.
Be aware of the muscles you train. Avoid injuries. Be Fit and Free.