Each issue of Running Magazine Matt shares a new exercise of the month. Learning plank variations will strengthen your core

Target Muscle/s: Erector spinae, obliques, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis
Sets & Reps: Up to 30 seconds of each version
Tempo: Static
Frequency: Include in your two strength sessions a week

The ‘plank’ is an extremely popular exercise amongst runners, used to target the trunk (core) muscles (erector spinae, obliques, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis) which provide a strong base for our moving limbs as we power forwards. In reality, research shows that these trunk muscles are worked just as much during standard exercises like squats, deadlifts, cleans, etc. but the plank does nevertheless provide a simple, equipment free way to keep the trunk muscles in good shape.

One myth that has evolved amongst plank aficionado’s is the longer you hold a plank the better. There is absolutely no evidence for this; you wouldn’t do 200 barbell curls to make your arms stronger, so why do 5 minutes of planking? As with any resistance exercise, development and adaption comes from progressively adding resistance or moving to a version that is more difficult, not staying still for longer.

This is where different variations of the plank become useful, and this ‘4 Way Combo’ provides just that. Making use of a forward plank, side plank, reverse plank and finally side plank, the goal is to hold each of the 4 plank versions for up to 30 seconds. Once you can do longer than 30 seconds, make the plank version more difficult, e.g. by raising one leg off the ground.

The 4 Way Combo

  1. Forward Plank

plank excercise

Facing the floor, lift your body up onto your forearms and toes, ensuring the shoulders are in line with the elbows. To keep the lower back comfortable, try to avoid excessive arching or humping, keeping the head, back and feet in a straight line. Keep the neck straight by looking down at the floor.

  1. Side Plank Right

plank excercise

Lying on your side, push up onto your forearm so that the hips rise. Maintain a straight line from head to toe. As you tire, the hips will start to fall so try to keep them up.

  1. Reverse Plank

plank excercise

Lying on your back, push up onto your forearms so that the hips rise. As before, try to maintain a straight line from head to toe. Keep the neck flat by looking straight up at the ceiling.

  1. Side Plank Left (not shown)

To complete the 4 Way Combo, perform a side plank facing the opposite direction, with weight on the opposite arm (we should really be seeing the back of the t-shirt in the photo).

Lower Back Pain?

If you experience pain in the lower back when performing this exercise, it may be because you are allowing the lumbar spine to fall into too much of an arch. Try tilting the pelvis slightly upwards so that the lower back flattens out. If you cannot achieve this, try lowering one knee to the ground. If you cannot perform this exercise without pain, seek help from a suitable qualified exercise professional.