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How to do the perfect plank exercise

A Single Move for Stronger Abs

Core muscles are essential for supporting the spine, aiding good posture, and almost every movement. The core is made up of all the muscles that connect the upper and lower body, including those of the stomach, lower back, hips and buttocks. By strengthening core muscles you will not only be on a fast track to a flatter stomach but will also improve the effectiveness of any exercise you do.
Planks blast the transverse abdominis.
The plank is one of the best exercises because it tightens the deepest core muscles. It's a static exercise where you use your arms to raise yourself off the floor and hold the whole body straight and rigid, like a plank of wood.
You can do it anywhere, you don't need any equipment and it only takes a minute (literally). What's more, it is more effective than sit-ups and crunches because these work only the superficial abdominal muscles.
Here are three different plank positions that target different core muscles. The longer you can hold a plank, the stronger your core will become and you will quickly see an improvement.

1. Basic plank
Start on elbows and knees, locking hands together. Straighten legs and raise your body so that you're supported by the balls of your feet, with feet hip-distance apart. Face the floor, being careful not to arch your back or stick your bottom in the air. Hold this position for 45 seconds to begin with, extending the time as you get stronger.

2. Side plank
Lie on your right side, propped up on your elbow. Let your left foot rest on top of your right, and then push up so that your body forms a perfect triangle with the floor. Don't let your left shoulder roll forward or back. Hold the position for as long as you can, then repeat on the other side.

3. Prone sky-dive
Always follow a basic or side plank with this move. Lie flat on the floor, face down, with your arms by your sides. Gently raise your chest off the floor until you can feel your lower back muscles start to work, simultaneously raising your arms up, palms facing upwards and with your thumbs furthest away from your body, pointing to the ceiling. Be careful not to clench your buttocks. Hold for 30 seconds.

How to spice up a basic plank
If you can hold a plank for more than two minutes with ease, you can move on to these tougher variations.
  • Lift one leg up. By simply raising one leg in the air, you dramatically increase the demand on your core to fight your body's natural urge to rotate.
  • Lift one arm up. Again, your body will want to fall to one side. Don't let it!
  • Use a Swiss ball. Rest your forearms on the ball and you'll have to stabilize your body and stop the ball from rolling out from under you.
 Do not attempt the plank if you have suffered any lower back problems.

Common errors

Lifting head up and looking ahead rather than gazing at floor between hands. Lots of stress on an extended cervical spine.
Allowing head to drop towards floor.
Holding hands together, which puts shoulders in an internally rotated position. Many (if not most) people already have muscle imbalances that cause their shoulders to be more internally rotated than they should be. Doing the plank in this position just reinforces that imbalance and is not as effective at developing shoulder girdle stability as the correct neutral position.

Prone Plank Error
Internally rotated shoulders. Bad form!
Allowing shoulders to round, or shoulders to sag so that scapula wing. Keep everything neutral to strengthen stabilizing muscles in the shoulder girdle.
Allowing trunk to sag. Commonly seen with an anteriorly rotated pelvis – Indicates weak or under-active  abdominals and/or glutes.
Prone Plank Sag sm
Trunk is sagging in the middle.

Allowing hips to pike.
Prone Plank Hip Pike
Hips piking.
Shifting weight to one side of body.
Allowing hips to tilt to one side.
Allowing pelvis to tilt anteriorly or posteriorly.
Remember – it doesn’t matter how long you can hold a plank. What matters is how long you can hold a plank with perfect form. If you find yourself struggling to do this exercise correctly, consider regressing the exercise by going on to your knees until you gain the strength and stability needed to do the full plank. Once you get to that stage, there are many options for progressing the exercise.

Sources:  www.gmcpersonaltraining.co.uk
The Daily Mail, mensfitness,