By Kim Duke, NETA & AAFA Certified Trainer
I named my fitness studio Core Performance Fitness and Training because I have been trained and believe that all motion comes from your core strength. Training and strengthening of these muscle groups that are critical for maximum upper to lower body (or lower to upper body) transfer of strength during many sporting activities. Some may consider this functional training, and still some others may consider it athletic performance training. They may be right, but core strength training has within it all these elements.
By using core strength training as your basis for creating a fitness program, you are teaching all the individual parts of your body to work together as one unit. This is beneficial in everything from everyday living to athletics, and is the foundational principle behind functional fitness.
If there is one move I want my clients to master, it is the PLANK.
I don’t know too many people who get excited about doing planks. Generally, you stare down your timer as the minute (or less) runs down. For a pretty basic isometric exercise, planks strengthen your entire body—they make your core pop, strengthen your lower back, and build your shoulders.
Better yet, you don’t need any equipment, and you can amp up the intensity by widening your stance and bracing yourself with your hands instead of your forearms and elbows. See for yourself. Check out what Keith Scott A.T.C., C.S.C.S., a strength coach in Medford, N.J., recommends for conquering the plank before you attempt any heavy weight exercise. You’ll be better for it, guaranteed.
Get into pushup position on the floor.
Now bend your elbows 90 degrees and rest your weight on your forearms. Your elbows should be directly beneath your shoulders, and your body should form a straight line from your head to your feet. Hold the position for as long as you can. Your goal should be to hold it for two minutes.
“The plank helps develop strength in the core, shoulders, arms, and glutes,” says Scott, making it a great prerequisite for lifting heavy weights or playing intense sports. Even though you aren’t moving or lifting weight, you have to constantly squeeze your abs to hold the position—most people can’t last 30 seconds on their first attempt.
The longer you can hold the plank, the more resilient your lower back will be to injury, and the better your abs will look once you burn the fat off them. Follow these tips for longer plank times.
• Practice: Perform planks several times each day, trying to hold the position a little longer each time.
• Use body-weight exercises: Pushups and pullups will improve your core strength.
• Squat and deadlift: folks who are strong in these specific lifts find planks are no problem.
If you don’t have the core strength yet to do a regular plank, you can build up to it by doing a bent-knee 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.