10 Strength and Flexibility Benefits of Planks
Despite being rated as one of the best core strengthening workouts around, not many are aware that planks are actually also considered a full body exercise as it engages multiple muscle groups at once including the legs, glutes, back, shoulders and arms. (1) What’s great about planks is that is utilizes your bodyweight, meaning you can do it anywhere, anytime with no additional equipment. It also burns a lot of calories at once, making it a good option for those who wish to lose weight.
In addition to its potential to burn calories, planks offer other benefits. Here are some of them.
10 Benefits of Planks
1. Planks enhance core strength.
One of the major advantages of doing planks on a regular basis is that they improve core strength. The core consists of the muscles, joints and bones that connect the upper and lower parts of the body.
Performing our daily activities such as bending over to pick up something, or reaching up to the top shelf, engages the core muscles. This is one of the reasons why developing the abdominal muscles is a crucial task. Without a strong core, quality of life and the ability to maneuver through physical challenges are affected.
Plank poses when performed correctly, recruit all the core muscle groups, such as the transverse abdominus, external obliques, and rectus abdominus. When your core strength is improved, there is a direct carryover to other aspects of fitness. (1)
2. Planks improve flexibility.
Planks are great for strengthening, but they also work to improve flexibility as well. During a plank, several muscle groups are tensed simultaneously. This will reveal any and all tight muscles and immobilized joints that could cause injuries in the long run due to imbalances. (2) Over time, you will find that regular planking will help target the weaker muscles. In doing so, planks work toward improving or maintaining flexibility by extending and stretching the muscles around your shoulders, collarbone, shoulder blades, hamstrings as well as the arches of your feet and toes.
To really cinch that waist and get a good burn going, add some side planks to your routine. This type of exercise usually expands the oblique muscles, especially if you extend your arm over your head, holding it in line with your body.
3. Planks promote bone health.
Physical activity does not only account for a healthy heart and well-developed muscles. It is also essential to bone and joint health.
Weight-bearing exercises are known to be highly beneficial to bone health. This will help boost bone density, which can prevent fractures and injuries especially among post-menopausal women as they are at higher risk of fractures once they hit menopause. (3) Planks are a great low-impact exercise that can still help you reap the benefits of physical activity without the additional wear and tear on the joints.
4. Planks improve nutrient partitioning.
Counting your calories to ensure that a negative energy balance is achieved is just one aspect of nutrition. Training however, can change your nutrient partitioning and signals the body to use food intake as fuel or recovery, rather than being stored directly as fat. (4) Planks are a total body exercise, hence they burn more calories than isolation exercises such as bicep curls or tricep extensions.
5. Planks may help prevent injuries.
According to a recent Navy Times editorial, sit-up exercises are a major cause for lower back injuries. By comparison, planks are the ideal alternative to build muscle and keep fit, as they involve no such risks. (5)
The Journal of Strength published a study, which suggests that planking exercises fully activate the abdominal muscles, while crunches only recruit 64 percent. For those who wish to develop a lean and toned midsection, planks should be incorporated into your training program for a balanced and symmetrical physique. This in turn, will help prevent injuries caused by muscle imbalances.
6. Planking strengthens your back.
Compared to other exercises like sit-ups, which despite popular opinion have been shown to do more harm than good to your body, planks also strengthen your back in addition to your abdominal exercises. This is because planks are a total body exercises due to tensing the different muscle groups from the shoulders down to the feet. Also, because this type of physical training places a major focus on tightening the upper back region for stability, the muscles in the upper back become stronger and more developed over time.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) states that planking is an excellent core strengthening exercise, because it typically requires minimal movement whilst contracting all your abdominals and helping minimize low-back pain at the same time.
7. Planks can boost your metabolism.
Even though planks do not make use of barbells and weights, you are still working with resistance—your own bodyweight! Resistance training has been shown to increase metabolic rate because muscle is metabolically expensive, meaning it burns more calories at rest than stored body fat. (6)
By utilizing planks regularly, you are effectively boosting your metabolic rate so that you continue burning calories even once your workout session has been completed. This does not typically happen during cardiovascular exercise or aerobic training, wherein the calorie burn occurs during the workout, not after.
8. Planks improve your posture and balance.
If you do planks regularly, your posture and balance will improve significantly due to maintaining proper form. By default, you will pull your spine into a neutral position, along with your hips. This will help create a streamlined posture that will benefit you when you are standing and sitting down as well. If you find that you are constantly plagued by lower back pain, knee pain, or tight shoulder blades, simple fixes to your posture may alleviate all aches and pains.
Doing side planks or planks with extensions significantly contributes to building balance in the same way that exercises performed on a stability ball do.
9. Planks help with functional strength.
Did you know that doing planks everyday makes your daily tasks seem easier? Classified as a ‘functional exercise’ because their benefits translate into practical activities, planks enjoy a remarkable popularity amongst the American Navy staff, with some advocating the substitution of crunches with the plank in the Navy’s physical readiness test.
Undertaken with regularity, planking workouts tends to make real-life tasks more efficient because they have a direct carryover into any physical activity. You may also notice that planking makes tasks like shopping, cleaning, gardening, house decorating seem less physically challenging and easier to perform.
10. Planking may help reduce stress and improve mood.
Physical activity in general is known to stimulate production of endorphins (the so-called ‘happy hormones’), and planking is no exception. (8) Chronically high stress levels create a toxic environment in the body where free radicals and other toxins thrive, so finding a way to mitigate high stress levels is crucial to overall health and longevity. Planks are easy to do, and require no equipment. For those who lead busy lifestyles with no time to go to the gym, planks can be performed anywhere at any time.
Moreover, if you add extra moves or variations, you can get in a total body workout appropriate for any fitness level.
To correctly perform a plank we suggest you follow these basic steps:
- Get into a press-up/push-up position with elbows bent and in line with the shoulders.
- Rest your weight on your forearms with fingers splayed out on the ground.
- Make sure your body forms a straight line from shoulders to ankles, and hold your hips, head and shoulders up.
- Pull in your stomach to engage your core.
- Hold this position for about 15 to 60 seconds. However, depending on your fitness level and endurance, you may be able to hold it for longer.
- Each hold is considered one rep. Do as many reps as you can while maintaining proper form.
- Rest for 30 seconds in between reps.
Bodyweight exercises are becoming more popular in the fitness industry for practical reasons, especially for those who are constantly on the go. Planks are one form of bodyweight exercises that can be incorporated into anyone’s fitness program due to its many variations and levels of difficulty. Its versatility and simplicity are what make it stand out amongst other bodyweight exercises since it requires no additional equipment or accessories. With a relatively small time investment, you can reap the benefits of this wonderful exercise right in the comforts of your own home.