Target Muscle/s: Erector spinae, obliques, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis
Sets & Reps: Static: 30 seconds. Dynamic: 12-15 reps
Tempo: Static & Dynamic
Frequency: Include in your two strength sessions a week

Last month in Plank Variation 2 we looked at placing a stability ball under the elbows to make the exercise more challenging and help us move away from the temptation to hold a normal plank for longer & longer. As we mentioned, despite the many online challenges holding a plank for over 30 seconds will not actually bring you any added benefit and could, in fact, have an adverse effect on your running as exposing the muscles to excessively long motionless stress may well promote rigidity rather than the desired strength while moving. In Plank Variation 3, we achieve running related strength by adapting the traditional plank by placing the feet on a stability ball.

Bear in mind that as runners we can tend to get a little obsessed with ‘core strength’ exercises. As we have talked about in previous articles, research shows that the trunk muscles targeted by such exercises (erector spinae, obliques, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis) are worked just as much during standard strength exercises such as squats, deadlifts, cleans, etc. That said, variations of the traditional plank can provide us with a simple, equipment-free way to keep the trunk muscles strong when we do not have access to traditional weights.

Versions

  1. Static hold on elbows: Ensure the lower back is kept in a comfortable, flat position. Once 30 seconds or more is achievable, progress to either the straight arm or dynamic version.
  2. Static hold on hands: Keep arms slightly bent. Once 30 seconds or more is achievable, progress to a dynamic version.
  3. Dynamic knee tuck on elbows: Ensure backside is kept high during the pull inwards. Once 20 repetitions or more are achievable, progress to either the straight arm or dynamic version.
  4. Dynamic knee tuck on hands: Keep arms slightly bent. Ensure backside is kept high during the pull inwards. Once 20 repetitions or more are achievable, try with toes on the ball instead of instep.

Regressions

As with any exercise, it is important to find a plank version that is suitable for your current level of strength. For those relatively new to core training or recovering from a recent injury/operation, stick to the static versions until you see strength gains. If using the ball proves too difficult, regress to a plank version without the ball. If you experience any back pain doing plank exercises, it may be because you are allowing the lower back to fall into too much of an arch. Try tilting the pelvis slightly upwards (towards your belly button) so that the lower back flattens out. If you cannot perform any exercise without pain, seek help from a suitably qualified exercise professional.

Matt Phillips is a Running Injury Specialist & Video Gait Analyst at StrideUK & Studio57clinic in Sussex. Website: www.sportinjurymatt.co.uk