It is no secret that Planks are some of the most widely used exercises by fitness professionals and enthusiasts alike. They’re effective and accessible to anyone regardless of fitness level, and are proven to increase core stability, reduce low back pain, and improve posture.

Anyone who has held a plank for long enough understands that it is a challenging exercise. It requires total body activation, from your shoulders to your heels. In order to ensure you are reaping its full benefits, alignment must be on your radar. Efficient movement and alignment are key to maintaining an injury free level of fitness.

There are very few “bad exercises” out there. Exercises are only bad if their execution is sloppy. Here are 3 of the most common mistakes made during a plank, and simple tips to help clean up your technique.

Sagging hips

This is one of the easiest mistakes to spot and is an immediate indication of a lack of core strength. By dropping the hips, you’re releasing the core muscles you were hoping to target and placing additional strain on the low back and shoulders.

When holding a plank it is important to keep the hips in line with the shoulders, glutes and legs tight, and belly button pulling up to the ceiling. Keep this phrase in mind; long in the back, tight in the front. If it is too difficult to keep your hips up try your plank from a box or bench, or simply shorten the duration of your hold.

Wandering arms

Another common mistake is what I like to call wandering arms. This is when an individual sets up their plank with arms too wide, or out in front of them. This can lead to additional strain in the shoulders, wrists, and neck, especially in a side plank variation.

When setting up your side plank, make sure that your wrist falls directly below your shoulder. You want one long line from your top hand to the bottom like a “T.” There should be a 90-degree angle at the armpit, and you want to actively push into the ground. This will ensure you are using the muscles in your arms to support the body and will take some of the tension out of shoulders and wrists.

Chicken neck

This common mistake is detrimental to the development of proper posture and spinal health. Jutting the chin toward the ground or looking out in front of you will increase tension in the upper spine, the back of the throat and base of the skull. This tension can lead to head aches, neck pain, and “text neck.”

Always make sure to think of your head as an extension of the spine. If the goal of a plank is to maintain proper spinal alignment, then your head and neck must be included in that. Think of drawing the chip slightly back, keep eyes down, and keep the back of the neck long and in line with the rest of the spine.

No matter what your fitness goals may be, efficient movements will bring maximal results. You wouldn’t cut corners or cheat while building your dream home, and neither should you while building your dream body. Your core is your foundation of strength and a plank is a great way to build upon that foundation. Next time you’ve got sweat dripping down your nose, a burning belly, and 30 seconds left on the clock, remember these simple tips to maximize the benefits of this gold standard exercise.

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