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Incorporate planks into your workouts two to three days per week.
Motoyuki Kobayashi/Photodisc/Getty Images
Everyone from athletes to those simply interested in developing core strength to alleviate lower back pain can benefit from incorporating plank exercises into their workouts. The plank can be performed from a front-lying or side-lying position, depending on which muscle groups you'd like to focus on. Always perform a brief dynamic warmup consisting of walking or other light aerobics to prepare your muscles before jumping into plank exercises.
The Right Way to Plank
Front plank is performed by lying face down on the floor with your legs extended and together and your elbows set on the floor directly under your shoulders. Lift your torso and thighs off the floor so that your weight is on your elbows and toes. You should create a straight line throughout your torso and thighs. Hold this position for 10 to 60 seconds. For side plank, lay on your side with both legs extended and stacked atop each other with your bottom elbow on the floor under your shoulder. Lift your torso and thighs so your weight is on your elbow and feet and hold that position for 10 to 60 seconds, switching sides on the next set.
Safeguards Your Spine
Front and side planks develop isometric strength in your core muscles, which means that they improve the ability of your muscles to hold a static position over time. Front and side planks challenge your muscles to maintain your body a static position against gravity. This is similar to how they have to work to maintain proper posture when you're standing or sitting. As a result, consistent front and side planks can help reduce your risk of lower back pain due to poor posture.
Hits Multiple Core Muscles
Although focus tends to falls on the abdominals, there are a number of other muscles in your core essential for maintaining proper posture. Your obliques, glutes, hip flexors and hip abductors also work to keep your spine properly aligned. The front plank primarily strengthens your abdominals, but also develops your obliques and your hip flexors. Not only do the hip flexors play an instrumental role in maintaining proper posture, but they help ensure you're able to walk, run and jump correctly. During the side plank, the obliques become the primary muscle worked, and your glutes and other hip abductor muscles on the outside of your upper thighs are recruited to keep your leg from collapsing to the floor.
Easy to Change it Up
Planks can be easily modified to reflect your training status. Those who need to work up to doing the traditional versions of the front and side plank can begin by doing the exercise from the knees instead. If you want to increase the difficulty of the exercise, you can do so by placing sandbags on your hips or having a partner press down on your hips. You could also lift one foot off the floor during the front plank or your top leg when performing the side plank.
No Gym Necessary
Because you're using your own body weight as resistance, you don't need any exercise equipment to perform either the front and side planks. An exercise mat may be more comfortable, but all you need is a soft floor surface, which means you can do the exercises nearly anywhere. This also means you can easily incorporate them into a home workout program or simply an exercise to do before you go to bed each night to keep your major core muscles strong.