Planks: You’re Doing Them Wrong

Here’s a challenge: I bet you cannot do a forward or side plank for 1 minute straight. Many people will say that is easy. So, let me rephrase: I bet you cannot do a forward or side plank properly for 1 minute straight.

Many fitness enthusiasts choose planks to work the core, but are they really working the core? When I observe clients perform the plank exercise, 9 out of 10 fail to perform the exercise properly. Take a look at the common compensation patterns that occur during the plank exercise and then challenge yourself. Can you do the exercise for 1 minute, with perfect technique, and without compensation?

  1. Prone Plank: Here the client demonstrates proper technique. From this side view notice, the ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles are in a straight line. Plank 12
  2. As we zoom in on the midsection, notice the thorax, hips, and thighs are in alignment. The glutes must be engaged and abdominals should be drawn-in. Plank 1
  3. Here is the big area of compensation. Notice there is flexion at the hips, which indicates the glutes are not firing and the hip flexors are overactive. The lower back is arched and the abdominal wall sags. Again showing overactivity of the hip flexor and erector spinae muscle, as well as poor firing of the core stabilizers. Plank 3
  4. Still in the prone plank, focus on the head and shoulders. The head should be neutral and the shoulders should not be internally rotated. This demonstrates compensation and activation of the pec minor, pec major, and the lat. This forward (protracted) cervical spine and internal rotation of the shoulders is a common compensatory pattern to provide the body extra support and strength. Plank 2 Plank 4
  5. Let’s turn to the side plank, from looking above, the ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles should be in a straight line. Plank 5
  6. A common compensation when viewed from above is flexion at the hips. This again indicates overactivation of the hip flexors, like the tensor fascia latae and iliopsoas muscles, and underactivation of the glutes, which pulls the trunk in to flexion. Plank 11
  7. From the side view, the body should make a straight, diagonal line. Notice here the straight line that runs from the sternal notch, through the umbilicus, across the pelvis and between the ankles. Plank 7
  8. Zooming in on the midsection we see another common compensation. The top image shows good pelvic alignment and hip control. However the bottom image we observe the lateral side bend at the hip. This shows lack of strength and control of the bottom (or left) gluteus medius. To compensate the left quadratus lumborum, and right adductor muscles synergistically dominates to help out the weak glute. This causes the top (or right) hip to rise and the right side to compress. Plank 8 Plank 9
  9. Here again, the head should be neutral and not rotated or flexed. Here, this client, even when correcting for this photo shoot demonstrates slight rotation and lateral flexion of the neck. Plank 6
  10. This is a common observation during the plank. Notice the torso is rotated forward indicating poor neuromuscular control of the abdominals and core stabilizers. The neck protracts and rotates indicating overactivation of the sternocleidomastoid scalenes and deep cervical flexors.  This trunk rotation also indicates the client is taking load off of the lateral muscles and moving the weight to the stronger back and hip muscles.Plank 10

Our body is a fantastic cheater. We are built to cheat and compensate. We always find ways to work around our weakest links. Part of what I do in training my clients is observing for compensatory movements, correcting them, and getting the client to activate the proper muscles. Being cognizant of the above compensations when performing the plank exercise, will help you strengthen the core properly.

7 thoughts on “Planks: You’re Doing Them Wrong

  1. Tammy Slauenwhite

    This couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m doing a 30-day beginner plank challenge on my YouTube channel. I’ll include a link to this article in all my videos now so people can learn how to assess and correct themselves, including me. I especially like this article because #1 – it’s short and to the point. #2 – it has plenty of visuals to help us. Thank you!!!

  2. Vern Gambetta

    Frankly I question the efficacy of planks in general. They are overused. Time spent on planks could be spent in more efficient dare I use the word functional bracing positions. Also hold plank positions for periods longer than ten seconds is artificial bracing. Bracing in function is an instantaneous activity. I am definitely not in the mainstream on this one.,

    1. Joshua Stone Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Vern. While I do agree with you on the efficacy (or lack thereof) of planks, we cannot deny its popularity and use. If you are going to do them, at least do them properly.

  3. Martine

    I teach people to help them increasing awarness and proprioception, and I think planks are great for that. It shows to the person the way they probably cheate and compensate in there everyday activities. Since it is static work, they have time to correct there position. And I’m glad to say that I would have pass your test of good quality planks! Thank you.

  4. Pingback: Planks: You’re Doing Them Wrong | Little four eyes

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