The plank makes sense in yoga, where you hold the plank pose for a few seconds then transition into another pose. It makes sense in rehab, too, where the goal is to build awareness of optimal body alignment in a static position.
And when trainers began to use it for entry-level clients, it seemed like a great idea. After all, people who exercise should be able to hold a plank — with their body weight resting on their forearms and toes, in the classic pushup position — for at least 30 seconds.
The reason this exercise is overrated, though, is because trainers too often recommend the beginner version without ever showing progressions to more advanced and useful exercises. Once you have an awareness of what it feels like to have a properly aligned torso, and once you have a base of core stability, you need to move on to exercises that challenge your stability dynamically. That’s where it counts. Maintaining alignment when you’re moving is the difference between getting hurt and staying in the game.
Two examples of how to progress planks and side planks from static to dynamic exercises are the pushup and the walking lunge.
If you can hold a pushup position for 30 seconds, you may as well progress from that to sets of 15 pushups, using a 1010 tempo. It’s still 30 seconds in the plank position, but now you’ve added a dynamic challenge.
Once you can manage this, do 15 pushups with one foot off the floor, at the same tempo. Then switch feet, and do 15 more.
When these variations are easy to accomplish, do 15 pushups, at the same tempo, lifting one hand off the floor after each rep. Then switch hands, and do 15 more.
And once these are no longer challenging, start T-roll pushups, such as those featured in the Resources section. T-roll pushups cover your front plank, side plank and rotary control — all in one exercise. Plus they build dynamic control, which always has more athletic carryover than static variations.
The side plank is more challenging than the front plank, and fewer people can hold it for 30 seconds on each side right off the bat. But once you get to the point where that’s easy, the same principle applies: You need to learn to use that lateral stability during dynamic movement.
One excellent exercise is the walking lunge with an unbalanced load. If you can do walking lunges with 35-lb. dumbbells in each hand, try them with a 70-lb. dumbbell in one hand.
It takes tremendous lateral stability to keep yourself upright when all the challenge is coming from one direction. And as a bonus, you’ll work your entire lower body as well as your core — and the gripping muscles in your hands and forearms aren’t just along for the ride.