Professional Baseball Strength & Conditioning

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Plank Exercise: Types, Progressions and Duration

By Jose Vazquez, PT, RSCC and Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E

The plank is a principle exercise in most strength and conditioning coaches tool boxes. Designed primarily to resist extension and enhance core stability, planks are efficient, effective, can be performed virtually anywhere and exist in a number of different variations. The β€œbasic” or low plank is performed with the weight being supported by the elbows, forearms and toes. Once perfected, players can progress to a varsity iety different plank exercises each with a slightly greater degree of difficulty. Illustrations of some of the more effective options can be seen at http://www.stack.com/a/25-plank-variations-for-a-shredded-stable-core?slide=19. Most plank exercises can be placed in one of three major categories: 1) prone planks; 2) lateral planks; and 3) supine planks. The following progressions of exercises (from simple to complex) are often recommended by strength and conditioning coaches, physical therapists and personal trainers1.Β  A discussion of how long or how many reps should be performed of each exercise is also provided.

Types of planks: prone, lateral and supine.

  • Prone planks – Difficulty can be reduced by spreading the feet about 12” outside the shoulders to increase the base of support or increased by placing the feet closer together to reduce the base of support. Difficulty can also be increased by performing the planks on an unstable surface such as a BOSU or stability ball.

 

  • Basic plank – forearms are flexed to 900 and weight is supported by the forearms, hands and toes and held for a prescribed length of time.

 

  • Saw plank – dynamic movement variation of basic plank in which you slowly and repeatedly move the body forward and back from the toes for a given number of reps. Exercise can be repeated from a high plank position for added difficulty, stability and control and from a BOSU or stability ball for even more difficulty, stability and control.

 

  • Side-to-side plank – dynamic movement variation of basic plank in which you slowly and repeatedly move the body side-to-side from the elbows for a given number of reps. Exercise can be repeated from a high plank position for added difficulty, stability and control and from a BOSU or stability ball for even more difficulty, stability and control.

 

  • Stir the pot – dynamic movement variation of basic plank in which you slowly and repeatedly rotate the body in a clockwise direction from the toes for a given number of reps and then repeat the movement in a counter-clockwise direction. Exercise can be repeated from a high plank position for added difficulty, stability and control and from a BOSU or stability ball for even more difficulty, stability and control.

 

  • High plank – arms are extended and weight is supported by the hands and toes and held for a prescribed length of time.

 

  • Single-arm plank – starting position is a high plank and one arm is raised and extended from the shoulder straight out in front of the body and held for a prescribed length of time. The exercise is then repeated on the opposite side.

 

  • Single-leg plank – similar to the single-arm plank except one leg is raised and extended from the hip straight out behind the body and held for a prescribed length of time. The exercise is then repeated on the opposite side.

 

  • Bird dog plank – advanced exercise in which a single-arm and opposite single-leg are raised and extended for a given number of reps. The exercise is then repeated on the opposite side.

 

  • Shoulder-extended plank – high plank with hands extended 6-12” in front of the shoulders instead of under the shoulders and held for a prescribed length of time.

 

  • Plank with arm lifts – dynamic movement variation of high-plank in which you repeatedly move from a high plank to a single-arm high plank on one side for a given number of reps before repeating the movement on the opposite side.

 

  • Plank with leg lifts – dynamic movement variation of high-plank in which your repeatedly move from a high plank to a single-leg high plank on one side for a given number of reps before repeating the movement on the opposite side.

 

  • Commando plank – dynamic movement in which you to move from a basic plank to a high-plank by extending one arm at a time from the elbow for a given number of reps.

 

  • Spiderman plank – dynamic movement in which you start from a high-plank position and slowly alternate moving one knee at a time to your elbow for a given number of reps.

 

  • Plank walks – dynamic movement in which you move side-to-side from a high-plank position by walking the hands and legs to one side and back for a given number of reps.

 

  • Shoulder taps – dynamic movement from a high-plank position in which you alternate lifting one hand off the ground and touching the opposite shoulder for a given number of reps with each hand.

 

  • Lateral planks – Movement can be static or dynamic. Dynamic movement can be in frontal or transverse plane.

 

  • Side plank on knees – from a side-lying position, contact with the floor is between the elbow and knee and the hips are bridged off the floor so there is a straight line between the knee and shoulder. This position is held for a given amount of time and then repeated on the opposite side.

 

  • Side plank – from a side-lying position with the elbow under the shoulder, bridge the hips off the floor and hold for a given amount of time and then repeat on the opposite side.

 

  • High side plank – from a side-lying position with the elbow extended and elbow and hand under the shoulder, bridge the hips off the floor and hold for a given amount of time and then repeat on the opposite side.

 

  • Star plank – from a high side plank position, raise the top leg and extend the top arm straight up from the floor, hold for a given amount of time and then repeat on the opposite side.

 

  • Rotating planks – advanced, dynamic movement from a basic plank position with forearms stacked one in front of the other in which you rotate in the transvers plane on the opposite elbow and toes of both feet as you pull one arm up out to the side so that the arm is pointing toward the sky. Return and repeat for prescribed number of reps or alternate movements from each side for a given number of reps.

 

  • Supine planks – These planks challenge the posterior side of the body and are performed from a supine position with the body facing upwards to the sky. Planks can be static or involve dynamic movements.

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  • Reverse plank – from a supine position with the hands placed beneath the shoulders, the hips are bridged up to form a straight line from the shoulders to the ankles and held for a prescribed length of time.

 

  • Reverse plank with leg kicks – from a reverse plank position, alternate kicking out each leg for a given number of reps with each leg while preventing the core from sagging.

 

Duration and number of sets and reps of planks. Traditionally, most strength and conditioning authorities have recommended that static planks be held for 30 seconds initially and gradually progressed to 60 seconds. They also recommend that players start with one set and gradually progress to three sets so that the total time under tension eventually reaches 180 seconds per exercise. If exercises are performed on both sides, e.g., single-arm and side plank, the total time under tension would be approximately 360 seconds.

 

For dynamic movements most have recommended starting with 1 set of 5 reps per side with a gradual build up to 3 sets of 10 on each side. If we assume that one rep will take approximately 1-2 seconds, the total time under tension for dynamic exercises would be approximately 180 seconds for each side of a given exercise.

 

McGill, however, recommends that coaches and athletes keep the duration of static, core exercises under 10 seconds and build endurance with repetitions, not by increasing the duration of the holds2. He recommends that participants perform ten 6-second contractions instead of the traditional 1-3 sets of 30-60 second contractions. According to McGill, performing more reps of shorter duration builds endurance without the muscles cramping from oxygen starvation and acid buildup3.

 

References

 

  1. McGill, Stuart. Ultimate back fitness and performance, 3rd Backfit Pro Inc., Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, 2006.
  2. McGill, Stuart. Core training: evidence translating to better performance and injury prevention. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 32(3): 33-46, 2010.
  3. McGill, Stuart, et. al. Lumbar erector spinae oxygenation during prolonged contractions: implications for prolonged work. Ergonomics, 43:486-493, 2000.

 

 

 

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Jose Vazquez, PT, RSCC is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Texas Rangers. Gene Coleman was the Head S&C Coach for the Houston Astros from 1978-2012 and is currently a S&C consultant for the Texas Rangers and Professor Emeritus in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake and Website Education Manager baseballstrength.org.

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