Plank Power with Rachel Crompton

As Pilates Instructors we all know that planks don’t just work your core, they work your entire body. When performing the move correctly, they engage and work muscles on the body’s front, sides, and back. They require your arms, your legs, and all of your abs, making them a full-body, challenging and engaging exercise.

The plank activates almost twice as many muscles as the abdominal curl. The plank targets the deeper core, helping to improve strength and stability and is safer for the spine.

So how do we support our clients safely and efficiently?

It’s important that we provide appropriate modifications and progressions. We must always make sure the start position is correct and keep a neutral pelvis and spine throughout the movement.

The spine, pelvis, arms, shoulder, and legs are in alignment. If the client can’t hold the start position or there is pain, don’t do the exercise.

We always start at the beginner level before progressing to any exercise, to ensure that the client is capable enough to follow through with the correct form.

The main things that I see that go wrong are the rounding off the thoracic and lifting shoulders, dropping the head down or when the pelvis sinks if the plank is held too long and gravity takes over  causing the client to strain or injure their lower back.

Always get the clients to try for a ‘neutral spine’ as it is the safest and most stable position for the spine to be in for any core exercise. If they can’t hold neutral then don’t progress with the exercise.

I’ve always found that by encouraging lateral breathing through the ribcage, and intercostal muscles we can help facilitate our clients’ movement.

At the Elixr School of Pilates our courses have a strong emphasis on posture, anatomy, alignment, core conditioning and breathing. With any plank setup, it will always incorporate the affirming of a neutral pelvis and spine with a large focus on shoulder girdle stabilisation.

So let’s look at 3 ways we can use the Plank to challenge our clients.

1. Front support. The focus is core strength, and scapular and shoulder stability. The start position is four-point kneeling, hands directly under shoulders and knees directly under pelvis. Legs together and toes tucked. Pelvis and spine in a neutral position. Inhale prepare. Exhale lift your knees a few centrimetres off the floor. Inhale stay, exhale lower.

2. Plank. Progress to a full plank. Legs are extended, meaning the spine is lengthened. This can also be done on forearms for a different variation.

3 .You can then progress to single-leg lifts. These will challenge our clients core more because you must keep your pelvis and spine stable when lifting one leg, to stop from rocking side to side.

4. Taking it one step further. You can always take your client to a wobbly surface such as the Pilates Arc, turned upside down with both hands on the upside and try to lift one leg.

Taking the plank to the reformer is a great challenge for our clients because you are working on an unstable surface (the carriage).

You can also adjust the springs – having fewer springs will make the exercise more challenging. More springs will give you more support and therefore is better-suited beginners.

Variations include:
1. Down stretch with one full spring.

Starting position is kneeling on the reformer with hands shoulder width apart, feet against the shoulder rests and legs parallel hip width. The carriage will move forward so you can hold a diagonal neutral spine and pelvis. Shoulders joint stable. Inhale prepare, exhale press the carriage out moving only through the shoulder joint. Only press out as far as your client can stabilise their shoulder, spine and pelvis without straining your lower back.

2. Progress to Full Plank where knees are off the reformer, to transition to a full plank. Take it one step further by lifting one leg.

3. Progress to Long Stretch. Shoulder joint stable, Inhale prepare, exhale to press the carriage out moving only through the shoulder joint. Only press out as far as the client can stabilise their shoulder, spine and pelvis without straining your lower back.

Another great option is placing the box in the short box position on the carriage and doing planks here.

Wunda Chair
I also really enjoy teaching clients planks with single arm push with a split pedal on the Wunda Chair.

This is an advanced exercise. This challenges shoulder and scapular stability and core strength.

We start on two red springs on the middle rack and split pedal. Set your hands on the pedal shoulder width apart directly under your shoulders. Extend your legs to plank, neutral pelvis and spine.

Feet hip-width apart (wider if you need more stability).

Keeping your shoulders, scapular stable and pelvis and spine neutral to the floor bend one arm lifting the pedal towards your shoulder then press in down, alternate to the left arm.


The bottom line:
Planks strengthen your arms, shoulders, core, and legs and are an effective full-body exercise.

Remember if a client can’t do a plank focus on the lower progression options such as knees on the reformer bed and holding for a shorter time. If that is still too much, get the client to do core tightening exercises such as pelvic tilting or imprinting. This simple but effective exercise gets the deep core muscle switched on and builds strength in the spine’s support system without adding load to the shoulders or the lower back.

Adding planks into your class will assist your client in improving their deep core muscles which are necessary for a well-rounded and strong physic.

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