Question: Can holding still for minutes at a time actually count as exercise? Your gut may be all:
But in actuality, the answer is “hell yes.” It’s called planking, and despite looking like you’re resting after a set of pushups, it’s actual exercise. Confused?
Not to worry. We’ll break it all down. To begin, let’s take a look at Scott Herman enthusiastically show us how to do a basic plank. Scott, the floor is yours:
How Planking Works
OK, now that we know how to do it, let’s take a look at why it works. The elegance of planking lies in its simplicity. Observe the basic form:
While all you’re doing is holding this position for 60 seconds at a time or 90 seconds at a time, this prolonged hold begins to fatigue your abs. The reason is that with gravity pressing down on your torso, butt and legs, your core has to work overtime to maintain this position.
Think of your body like a bridge. Bridges typically have supports throughout to spread the stress out evenly. If they don’t, all the stress goes to one area of the bridge, usually the middle.
That’s what going on here. All the stress is on your core. In the case of bridges, this would be awful, but since it’s your body, the result is you’ve targeted the hell out of your core, specifically your transverse abdominus, the rectus abdominus, the external oblique muscle, and the glutes.
If you plank long enough, you can seriously strengthen these muscle groups and can even find you’re able to activate your quads, chest, deltoids, and triceps.
Why Planking Is Awesome
Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those pieces that’s just blindly selling you on a silver bullet.
We’ll get to some of the drawbacks of planking. But first, let’s focus on what makes it a pretty damn good exercise:
- No equipment needed: This may come as a shock, but you’re not always going to have a gym nearby you can pop into. Having a few exercises in your back pocket you can do in the gym just as easily as you could anywhere else makes things easy when you’re traveling, camping, or lost in the middle of the desert.
He thought about getting a plank in.
- Less strain on your lower back than crunches: Look, there’s a reason why crunches and situps are a pain — because they’re painful. One of the biggest benefits of planking is you’re putting limited amounts of stress on your back because your spine isn’t bending or twisting.
- You’re in the perfect position to send text messages: Your head is down, your elbows are pulled in tight, your hands are free. This is the point in the workout where you can catch up on all those group texts you were added to without your permission.
Why Planking Sucks
To be clear, planking does have a place in your workout. But like most exercises, it has its drawbacks:
- It can be bad for people who already have high blood pressure: Like most isometric exercises, your blood pressure can increase rapidly while performing it. If you already have high BP, then planking might not be for you. Talk to your doctor.
- It can jack you up if you overdo it: Unfortunately, if you plank all day everyday — or even just for extended periods of time — you can develop something called costochondritis, which is basically inflammation of the cartilage connecting your ribs to your breastbone. It can put your out of commission for awhile, so make sure that you stop if you start to feel pain. There’s “feeling the burn” and there’s “oh crap, you’re hurt — stop.” Know the difference.
- People feel the need to plank on top of things: This one is a bit difficult to understand, but it would appear some plankers undergo a change in brain chemistry. Perhaps in an attempt to spice up the act of planking, they seek to plank on all sorts of things. Don’t fall victim to this temptation.
Bottom line: Planking can be a great addition to your workout. It tones your abs, and it brings a low-stress dimension to your ab game, which is tough to get anywhere else. As long as you see it for what it is and don’t overdo it, you can use it to take your washboard to another level.