Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Plank Variations

I've mentioned before how much I love doing the plank.

Here are some of the variations you can do from the "basic" plank once you've gotten a reasonable time on them. How long is reasonable? Depends who you ask. At least 60 seconds, and if you're in the 3-5 minute range, you really need to make them harder. A good goal might be a 120 second standard plank, and then moving on to harder versions.

Try working through these and see how you do. It'll add some fun to your planking and challenge your body in ways a "vanilla" plank won't once you've gotten good at them.

These are by no means listed in order of difficulty.

Pushup Planks. Like the normal plank, but you keep your arms extended. One brutal variation is to neither lock out your arms for the pushup plank nor rest on your forearms for the regular plank - instead you descend about halfway into a pushup and hold there. This will help increase your endurance at that particular part of a pushup...but usually the main goal of the plank is abdominal endurance.

Three-Point Planks. There are two versions of the three-point plank. The first is a little easier - get into plank position, then raise one of your feet off the ground. You have three contact points on the ground - one foot, and two forearms. You can alternate raised feet between rounds, or halfway through each round of the exercise.
A harder version of the three-point plank involves removing one arm rather than one foot from the floor. The arm can be held out straight or to the side (harder), or merely lifted off the ground (easier). You're left with three contact points but your torso also has to cope with uneven stress, making the exercise more demanding on your abdominal muscles. Be sure not to lose your tightness in the abdominal muscles when you do this variation, it's easy to compensate and lose the benefits of the exercise.

Two-Point Planks. Instead of raising one arm or one leg, raise the opposite one of each. Left leg up and right arm up, or right leg up and left arm up. This can be combined with holding the arm straight out or to the side for more difficulty.

Plank-to-Pushup. Demonstrated in the video by Joe DeFranco, who is also the person I learned these from. Like the plank, these are best done for time. You start in a plank, and then one arm at a time push yourself up into a pushup, then lower into a plank, and then around again. You can either change directions each round, or alternate each rep (start on the left, end on the right, start on the right, end on the left). These are harder than they look, and it's very easy to lift your hips to make it easier. That turns it from a great plank variation into a poor pushup variation. Make sure you stay in plank position!

Prone Plate Switches. Demonstrated in the video by Tony Gentilcore. Get into plank position with a small pile of (light) weight plates to one side. Grab them one by one and "switch" them to the other side. Once you've finished, move them back with the other hand.

Weighted Planks. Any variation of the above planks can be made more difficult by adding resistance. If you have a training partner, you can have them add plates to your back for any of the static planks. Generally, a weighted vest works better - the weight won't shift, and it's distributed around your body. This has upsides (you can do dynamic planks) and downsides (you're restricted to the weight of the vest, for one).

That's just a start. Planks are pretty easy to get cute with. But the basics of adding difficulty in maintaining the isometric hold, and adding a dynamic element while keeping your abdominal muscles and back tight, should be enough to hold you for now.

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