The history of the plank exercise
Most likely you did your first plank in a gym class either out on the schoolyard or in the gymnasium. Eventually you may have done it at the gym or in a group exercise class. If you have not performed one of the many variations you probably have seen them such as side planks, planks on a Bosu, with a stability ball, with weights on the back to increase the difficulty or with a suspension system. There is even the reverse plank. It is undeniable, the fitness industry loves the plank and the affair has been going strong for decades. So why is it so popular. The simple answer is it packs a powerful punch when done correctly.
The Plank works the abdominals, it strengthens the back muscles, brings stability into the body, works the arms and the side body. It is also safe to let people perform in a group setting. However, it is not actually as easy as we sometimes think it is. When I teach the exercise, I like to use the cue “long and strong.” What does that mean. The body should be one long line from the top of the head to the base of the heels. Sounds easy but its not. When clients that I train first come to me they usually execute the pose with a break in the neck, either looking up or allowing the head to hang which puts pressure on the spine. If they don’t then they break at the waist allowing the tailbone to hinge up slightly or let the hips fall toward the mat. One is just as bad as the other because the lower back is taking to much pressure and as a result the abs are released which defeats the purpose of the exercise.
I happen to really like doing planks but not so much as a pose the way we think of the exercise but in a mat exercise called the Leg Pull Front or an exercise called Long Stretch which is actually performed on the Pilates Reformer. Why are plank exercises done on a reformer or in Pilates mat class you ask? Well because Joseph Pilates was the original Planksta. He started developing his system which he called Contrology around 1912. When he came to America in the 1920’s he brought his apparatus designs and his original mat work which included the so-called Plank. He also designed Leg Pull Back which is a reverse plank. Unlike the stagnant version we teach in many personal training sessions or group fitness classes today, Mr. Pilates did the exercises that used planks in repetition which didn’t just build endurance but also strength and flexibility. Such as the up stretch which brings the body through the pike and into the plank and then reverses it. So, Did Joe invent the Pike too? Stay tunes for more blog posts.