People love them and people hate them, but planks are excellent exercises for testing true core strength. When performed correctly and actively, meaning you engage every muscle you can, planks neutralize the spine and work the entire body. According to fitness experts, intentionally bringing awareness and alignment to posture is one of the key’s to strength.
Brace yourselves, literally, because most people plank incorrectly. The plank is an isometric exercise that primarily targets the abdominals, hips, lower back, and arms. Many workouts incorporate them, often in the beginning and end. People who are new to planking do not execute the exercise correctly, though, so it does more harm than good. Without the knowledge of how to perform an active plank, people passively plank instead.
The form of a passive plank looks similar to the form of an active plank, but it doesn’t feel like one. Passively planking not only does nothing to encourage strength, but it also increases the risk of injury. Like any exercise, the plank is pointless if you don’t do it correctly. Below, you’ll find a list of the five most common mistakes people make when planking. Make sure to avoid them, especially if you want to improve core strength.
Arching Your Back
Arching the lower back is perhaps the most common of the plank mistakes you’ll learn about in this article. The reason people arch their backs while doing planks is because it is a natural response as the core fatigues. The midsection starts to sag and the back falls out of alignment. It doesn’t cause immediate injury, but it puts stress on the lower back, which can lead to severe back pain over time. Additionally, arching the lower back reduces the core-strengthening benefits of the plank because you no longer engage the abdominals.
Lowering The Hips
The hips start to sag when the arm muscles and abdominals start to fatigue. Gravity does what it does, but it’s your responsibility to fight it if you want to improve strength. When you sink your hips toward the ground, the core muscles are less challenged and you also strain the lower back. Alternatively, some people hike their hips up to take the emphasis off the core. This can strain the shoulders and makes it a different exercise altogether.
Moving your head around and looking up are two amateur moves that can negatively affect the positioning of a plank. Looking up at a mirror, clock, or to see if other people in the gym are impressed with your plank wreaks havoc on your form. In a proper plank, the body should be in a straight line from your head to your heels. Throwing the body out of alignment can cause soreness in the neck and upper back between the shoulder blades.
As with any exercise, it’s important to breathe, but so many people think that planking translates to breath holding. Failure to breathe during a plank can cause you to engage other muscles instead of your core muscles. This means that you won’t get the most out of your plank because you’ll be focusing on the wrong muscle groups. Use the breath as a constant and you’ll find that controlled breathing contributes to a more effective plank.
Planking Too Long
Plank challenges are some of the most popular workout challenges on social media. Most of them start with short plank holds, but the planking time increases with each passing day or week, depending on the challenge. According to fitness experts, it’s not beneficial to hold a plank for eternity. In fact, holding a plank for minutes on end is not proper plank practice. Planking too long inevitably leads to bad form, including many of the previously mentioned mistakes. Performing any exercise with bad form is not good for the body, so release the plank hold if you feel that your form is suffering.