Plank Position... it's really not the most flattering name, is it? I mean, it conjures up images of some poor seafarer in the late 1800s, walking the plank to their demise in choppy waters off the coast of Africa. And the first few times you engage in Plank Position, you may feel pretty similar to that poor dude stepping off the edge of the ship to the deep blue below.
The truth is, though, that plank position is a GREAT total body exercise. We primarily think of it as a great core strengthener, which it is. But it also works your upper body (deltoids and pectoral muscles) and lower body (gluteals and quadriceps). In layperson's terms, it fires up your abs, back, chest, shoulders, rear end, and thighs.
Another important trait of the Plank is that it helps us work on our core stability. Remember from the paragraph above, your core consists of your abdominal muscles and your back. That region of our body is the key to all movement. If we lack stability there, we won't have proper mobility anywhere else. It's crucial for everyone to include core stabilization exercises in their workout routines, if for no other reason than to help us with the activities of daily life (like lifting your kid out of the grocery cart, doing chores that involve reaching and bending, and effectively pillow fighting with your significant other)!
If you are new to Plank, start out holding the pose for short durations (eg. 5-10 seconds). Try to do 3 sets, 5-10 seconds each, 2-3 days a week. You can scatter them throughout your workout if you can't do them back to back. Gradually lengthen the time to 15 seconds, then 30, 45 and finally challenge yourself to hold Plank for 60 seconds. It may take you a month or two to reach that full minute, depending on your current strength levels. Remember, if you start losing form (like letting your stomach sag to the ground), you should stop, regroup, and begin again. Always make sure you're contracting your abs, pulling your navel up toward your spine and keep your head in line with your back.
If holding Plank for 60 seconds is already a breeze for you, add some variations. Try Side Plank, Extended Plank (same as Plank but using arms extended from the floor as in push-up position), or Plank with a wide leg stance lifting up one leg an inch or two off of the ground.
After a week or so of engaging in Plank position, you'll start to feel stronger in your core. And given that it is a popular yoga pose, you might find yourself breathing deeply, meditating, and reaching a new level of consciousness when you do it. Or, if you're like me, you'll find yourself saying 4-letter words and cursing the person that introduced you to the exercise. Happy Plank-ing!