Welcome back to the Running Coaches’ Corner — one of the coolest running linkups on the web!
This month’s theme is March Madness. Now, if you’ve been following me on Instagram, you know I’ve been challenging myself to a plank-streak. It’s been a bit maddening to keep it going for so long, but it’s been worth it. Today I want to talk about why I’ve been challenging myself to plank every day along with the successes and challenges I’ve faced.
Let’s talk core.
Most people — general public, athletes and runners included — are severely lacking in the core strength department. Our core is so important to our health. A strong, supported trunk aids in our digestion, it stabilizes our posture, it assists our lower body strength. It’s actually quite astonishing how critical our core is to our overall well-being when you get down to it.
A strong core is particularly important for runners as it helps stabilize our bodies as we propel ourselves forward. It promotes proper form and effective forward motion. If you have a weak(er) core, you are likely to be weak in other areas as well — hips, glutes, even quads and hammies — and all the way down to the toes.
With a strong core, your arms will likely stay at the sides of your trunk instead of swinging across the midline of your body. Without a strong core — and subsequent arm swinging — you set yourself up for injury particularly in the hip and IT band area from over-rotation of your trunk. This is just one example of why a strong core is important to runners.
An effective plank works all the core muscles at the same time. It’s easy to do (in theory, more on that in a moment) and just 45-60 seconds a day can yield amazing results. As a result of my own plank-streak, I’ve noticed increased definition and strength in my shoulders, triceps, and biceps — sufficiently more than doing push-ups alone, which is another activity I do daily.
I’ve also noticed a more stable core. I can hold the forearm plank longer. I can hold a side plank longer. I can see more definition than I have since last winter when I was also on a plank-streak.
Is there more than one way to plank?
Heck yeah there is. Here are the seven plank variations I do regularly in my fitness routines. (But there are many, many more. Just ask Google!)
This is the classic plank when most people think of a plank. It’s simple and an easy position to get in to and hold for 45-60 seconds.
Straight arm plank:
The straight arm plank is another one you may think of when you hear the word “plank.” To achieve this one, you’ll be on your hands and toes essentially at the top of push-up position.
Forearm side plank:
A forearm side plank is achieved when you start in forearm plank position, and then turn your body so now it’s perpendicular with the floor instead of parallel.
The side plank is the same thing as the forearm side plank except you start in the straight arm plank position.
Forearm plank with toe taps:
In a forearm plank position, raise your right leg a few inches off the ground. Repeat on the left leg. Do this 10 times.
Forearm plank with fingers taps:
In forearm plank position, you’ll reach one arm at a time directly in front of you and tap the ground. Alternate arms and do this 10 times.
Straight arm plank with knee taps:
In a straight arm plank position (at the top of push-up position), you’ll bring your knee up toward your shoulder and lightly tap the ground directly underneath. Alternate legs and repeat this exercise 10 times.
The Rolling Plank
What I haven’t told you about my plank-streak is that I haven’t limited myself to a forearm plank. When I first began my 2016 plank-streak, I was planning on the forearm plank. But I just couldn’t hold it as long as I wanted to. I felt like I was failing and I knew my form wasn’t where it should be. I started experimenting with different plank positions and what I ultimately found was that if I moved and changed positions, but still held a plank, I got a better workout overall.
One of my very favorite plank routines to do is what I fondly refer to as the rolling plank. I typically start off with a forearm plank and hold it for 90 seconds or so. Once I feel my body beginning to fatigue, I begin the “rolling” process. I alternate between the forearm side plank and the forearm plank. A typical rolling plank session looks like this:
- Forearm plank for 60-90 seconds
- Forearm side plank for 6-10 seconds
- Return to forearm plank for 6-10 seconds
- Forearm side plank on the other side for 6-10 seconds
I’ve found great success with these planks and plank variations. Some days I’ll roll, some days I won’t. And sometimes I’ll hold the initial forearm plank for a very short period of time, while other days I’ll hold it for up to 2 minutes (or until I begin feeling my form failing).
A word of caution
As I mentioned earlier, planks are easy to do — most of the time. In some fitness circles, it has been argued that planking is an ineffective tool for core stability due to possible injury. I don’t belong to a gym nor have I ever taken a group fitness class so this is next to impossible for me to speak to personally, but apparently there are some classes and styles of fitness that encourage a forearm plank of two minutes or longer, and purport that as the ideal time to achieve. There have been some reported cases of injury resulting from said ideal time of achievement. These instances are in the minority, however, and most fitness professionals would argue that planking is by and large a very effective way to strengthen and stabilize the core.
But some people are just not good at planking — and that’s okay! If your body says “no” to the plank, listen to it. There are plenty of other ways to achieve a stable and strong core than just by planking. What works for one person will not work for all people. As with any exercise or fitness regime, it is best to listen to your body. If you are taking on a new fitness goal, you may want to run it past your physician as well if you’re at risk for injury.
Overall, the plank is a very effective exercise at improving your core strength, which ultimately affects your running form. The stronger your core, the stronger your run. I encourage you to work on your core in any manner — planks, push-ups, Pilates, yoga — all excellent techniques to strengthen your core.
Whatever you do, just make sure you listen to your body. I can’t possibly stress that enough.
TALK TO ME!
What’s your favorite way to plank?
Do you take Pilates or yoga classes? Have you found they helped your core stability?