Why the plank is one of the best core strengthening exercises one can do
Updated: Oct 31, 2018
Fitness trends tend to come in waves. And nowhere is this more true than in the area of abdominal exercises!
First, there was the sit-up. An exercise that became so popular and influential that schools and military organizations still use it to this day as a benchmark for physical fitness and as a primary core-builder.
Then, there came the crunch which swiftly dethroned the sit-up and became the new king of abdominal exercises.
But recently, another exercise has gained popularity in the fitness scene. That exercise is the plank – and indications are this one is here to stay! In fact, the plank is quite possibly the most popular ab and core exercise currently out there.
So much so that people have taken it up as a personal challenge to set plank hold time records. While most people struggle to hold a plank for even a minute, a former marine named George Hood recently held a plank for a record 10 hours and 10 minutes (1)!
This is the vision behind the free FlawlessPlank app - to enable people of all fitness levels to do this powerful exercise correctly and more importantly with flawless form. And maybe reach for one of those hold time records!
So, What’s the Deal With the Plank?
The premise behind this plank movement is to hold a static and flexed position for an extended period – also called an isometric hold. In statically flexing your muscles such, you train and develop various muscle groups, and especially the abdominals. You also develop isometric strength and core stability.
An important comparative study looking at trunk muscle activation found that main abdominal muscle groups, such as the rectus abdominis, external obliques, and erector spinae were activated nearly twice as much during a standard plank exercise when compared to a trunk flexion and extension movement (e.g., a sit-up) (3).
In one study from 2016, some researchers sought to determine what type of surface elicited the greatest muscle activation during a plank (2). This is the conclusion they drew from the study:
The plank exercise strengthens the core muscles effectively, and muscle activity is related to the posture of the exercise and the location of the muscle. These results suggest that plank exercises improve muscle activities. Additionally, plank exercises can be applied to general medical care.
And finally, one additional study looking at muscle activation during various core exercises showed interesting results (4). In it, nine previously untrained women were familiarized with seven functional movements over a 4-week span before testing.
In the end, the researchers concluded that the standard plank resulted in the highest rectus abdominis and external oblique activation. The plank also showed significant erector spinae activation, and was ranked in the top half of all exercises for activating that specific muscle group.
Therefore, all in all, the plank is one of the best core and abdominal exercises one can do.
Other Benefits of the Plank
1. Reduced low back pain
A systematic review from 2016 looked at training with the aim of strengthening and stabilizing core musculature and its role in low back pain (5). The researchers concluded:
Core stabilization exercises significantly reduced lower back pain by 76.8% compared to a 62.8% significant reduction following the conventional exercises. Other research looking at core stabilization have also found it to reduce low back pain (6, 7, 8).
These findings suggested both core stabilization and conventional exercises to be significantly beneficial in reducing chronic lower back pain (CLBP). However the core stabilization group reported a significantly greater improvement compared to conventional exercises, highlighting the importance of core stability for CLBP patients.
Plus, when compared to most exercises, the plank is a very safe and effective way to strengthen and stabilize trunk musculature without aggravating existing back pain.
2. Ability to prevent injuries
An overwhelming majority of the existing literature suggests that having a strong and stable core could help us prevent injuries (9, 10). There are multiple ab exercises that can enhance core stability – but the plank is one of the best ones to get one to this goal.
One would be free to believe that having a strong and stable core could help us prevent injuries, especially in contact sports or activities that involve sudden movement or change in direction.
3. The plank exercise trains the core as intended
At its essence, the core’s job is to maintain stability in the trunk and to transfer energy between the upper and lower body musculature. In most cases, the core relies on its isometric strength to do so.
First, it involves your entire body to maintain a rigid position. Second, it trains the core isometrically thus strengthening it to maintain a static position and keep the spine properly aligned.
The core is also involved in most total body activities (e.g., lifting heavy weights, running, playing sports, etc.). Therefore, the plank trains the core as intended.
Maybe you’re a powerlifter looking to squat a ton. Or you’re suffering from low back pain. Or maybe you’re just a regular person who wants to be strong, fit, and injury-free.
No matter your fitness level, current situation, and personal goals, the plank is one simple, effective and amazingly versatile core and abdominal exercise that you should not go without.
Get the free Flawless Plank app today and work towards a better and better #FlawlessPlank every day!