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The Front Plank: Taking an old exercise and making it easier

Muscles of the trunk

The front plank is one of the main exercises I teach my chiropractic patients for strengthening their core region. It activates the muscles of the anterior (front) of the body, such as the rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus, obliques, quadriceps and hip flexors.  All of which are weak in those who sit at a desk all day and those who lead a sedentary lifestyle.

One of the reasons I teach this exercise, rather than the abdominal curl up, is that the curl up puts the spine into flexion. For those who have had a history of back injuries, especially intervertebral disc injuries, the curl up puts the spine into a position that can cause injury to the disc.  It would seem counter-productive to perform an exercise that stresses the spine the same way it was injured. The plank is a great alternative.

If you are unfamiliar with the exercise here is a video of how the full plank on elbows is performed.

The video also shows two of the alternatives I will give in a future post.

Not all of my patients can perform a full plank so this blog post is about how to modify the exercise to fit your needs. There are numerous reasons why the plank can be difficult.  One reason may be that the person is extremely de-conditioned.  They may be overweight therefore the muscles can’t handle the resistance  Another reason is that they may have past injuries to the hip flexors, elbows or to the shoulders.

When performing the plank here are some tips that you should make sure you are doing to help maximize the effectiveness and minimize injury

  1. Only perform the exercise if you can perform it safely and properly
  2. The thighs should be inline with the torso. Do not allow the hips to pike up or sag down to the ground.
  3. Since the plank can put a fair amount of stress on the shoulders I recommend that you focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together thus activating the scapular stabilizers.
  4. Keep the shoulders and hips parallel to the ground
  5. If an injury is preventing you from performing this exercise I suggest you visit a health care professional. I have had great success in treating the shoulders and hip flexors with Active Release Techniques, Acupuncture, Chiropractic adjustments and appropriate stretches and exercises for these areas.

So here is how you can make the exercise easier:

  1. Planks against the wall – This is the easiest form of the exercise.  Place your forearms against the wall.  The further you place your feet away from the wall, the more difficult it will be. This version is for those with extremely weak musculature.
  2. Planks with elbows on a chair – There will come a point that your feet will be so far away from the wall that you can not maintain contact with the wall and you will fall flat on your face.  When you get to this point (hopefully before you fall flat on your face) grab  a chair and place your forearms on the chair.
  3. Using the stairs – Depending on how tall you are start at the 4th, 5th or 6th stair.  If this is easy then progress down to the next step until you are finally on the floor.
  4. Planks with the knees on the ground – When you try to perform a full plank on the chair this may prove to be difficult. If you can not perform it with the legs straight then put your knees on the ground.  This can also be done if you can not perform the full plank on the floor.

My suggestion to most individuals is that, from my experience,  if they can perform this exercise holding for 10 seconds, ten times (with 10 seconds of rest between each exercise) then it is time to make it more difficult. You can make it more difficult by increasing how long you are holding the exercise for or by making it more challenging which I will be discussing in a future post.

I hope this advice helps you.

Dr Notley
Winnipeg’s only dual credentials Chiropractor and Athletic Therapist

Originally posted on May 17, 2022 @ 4:40 pm