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

The ‘plank’ is an extremely popular exercise amongst runners, used to target the trunk (core) muscles (erector spinae, obliques, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis) which provide a strong base for our moving limbs as we power forwards.

Although research shows that these trunk muscles are worked just as much during standard exercises like squats, deadlifts, cleans, etc. adding some variety to the traditional plank exercise can provide a simple, equipment free way to keep the trunk muscles strong.

Despite the many online challenges, holding a plank for over 30 seconds will not bring you any added benefit. Instead, variations should be introduced to make the exercise more challenging, especially adding some form of movement. Using a stability ball can open many new ways of achieving this.

Method

  1. Whilst kneeling with elbows on a stability ball, tilt the pelvis to achieve a comfortable, flat lower back.
  2. Raise both knees and attempt to hold this position for up to 30 seconds, ensuring that the lower back remains flat and pain free.
  3. If you cannot achieve 30 seconds with two legs up, try starting with an easier version by lowering one knee to the ground.
  4. If you can achieve 30 seconds with two legs up, try a more challenging version by raising one leg off the ground.
  5. If you can achieve 30 seconds with one leg off the ground, try a more challenging version by using your elbows to roll the ball forwards & backwards in a continuous movement.

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, you may well need to start with one knee lowered onto the floor. If this is still too challenging for the body, one can regress further by lowering both knees to the floor. 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 suitable qualified exercise professional.

Matt Phillips is a Running Injury Specialist & Video Gait Analyst at StrideUK & Studio57clinic in Sussex. Follow Matt on Twitter: @sportinjurymatt