Forearm Plank: The Proper Form And Technique
A forearm plank is a standard core exercise for at home workouts, but it’s critical to know the proper form and technique to get its benefits. A forearm plank is good for core stabilization and abdominal strength. It also helps to improve posture in the upper body and lower body. This happens by working the transverse abdominis, pectoral muscle group, serratus anterior, and glute muscle group. Developing these strength and stabilizing muscles will lead to better posture and less risk of injury. However, most people don’t use it in their workout correctly. Instead of holding a plank pose for 30 or 60 seconds, you should be holding for a short amount of time and completing multiple reps.
You don’t need to be an expert in the foundations of human movement science. But knowing some basics will help you know what certified personal trainers do. We’ll give you the breakdown of a forearm plank and its variations here. When you know what a plank works and why, you’ll get more out of it when you develop a workout plan.
- Joint positioning in a forearm plank
- Isometric muscle activation during a plank
- Proper form and technique
- Common mistakes during a plank pose
- How to make a plank variation
Joint Positioning In A Forearm Plank
The positions of joints during a plank pose are important to know to do the exercise correctly. In a standard forearm plank, there is no change in joints. Instead, you hold the body in an isometric pose to get a total body workout. The joints and their positioning during a forearm plank positioning are:
- Ankle in dorsiflexion, flexing the right and left foot and pushing the heels back
- Each knee of the right leg and left leg in full extension
- Hips in a neutral position with no anterior or posterior tilt
- Shoulders protracted but not rounded
- Cervical spine neutral, not in extension or flexion
Isometric Muscle Activation During A Plank Pose
Traditionally, the plank pose is different from an exercise like the push up technique or squat technique because the body doesn’t move into forms of flexion or extension. Instead, the exercise is in a static position. But, as you’ll learn, moving into and out of that static position will give you the best benefits of your plank exercise. Here are the muscles as they activate during the forearm plank pose.
- The anterior tibialis dorsiflexes, pulling the toes up.
- Quadriceps contract isometrically to keep a straight line from the heels to the hips.
- The glute complex fires to keep the hips in a neutral position, specifically the gluteus maximus.
- The transverse abdominis engages, pulling the navel into the spine.
- The rectus abdominis maintains an isometric contraction to prevent the lower back from arching or rounding.
- The pectoralis major fires to hover the body above the ground.
- Serratus anterior muscles stabilize the shoulder blade to prevent them from retracting.
- Deep cervical flexors keep the head in a neutral position.
Proper Plank Form
To perform a forearm plank correctly, use these guidelines.
- Start in a quadruped stance on your hands and knees.
- Drop your upper body down so the right and left elbow are on the floor with the forearms parallel to one another.
- Before lifting your knees, pull your chin in so the back of the head pushes toward the sky and your gaze is on the floor.
- Fully protract your right and left shoulder blade without rounding the shoulders forward.
- Lift the knees off the floor so the right leg and left leg are fully extended.
- Flex the feet.
- Tighten the quads, straightening the line from your feet to your hips.
- Pull the belly button in and slightly draw the hip to the bottom of the rib cage.
- Keep your shoulder and the shoulder blades in a neutral position.
- Instead of having the hands flat on the floor, turn the right and left hand in so they face each other. This promotes better upper body posture.
- Keep the gaze at the floor.
- Hold for two to four seconds and drop the knees down.
- Repeat 10 to 20 times.
Performing the plank this way will improve muscle endurance, one of the five components of fitness.
Common Plank Mistakes
With the popularity of the plank pose, don’t be surprised if you make these mistakes. Just correct them in your workout and you’ll get even more of a benefit.
- Performing for extended hold times: Realistically, if you wanted to improve your posture and activate these muscles, you’d have to hold your plank for hours at a time. Given that’s not a typical workout, instead, you should do repetitions. This will teach the nervous system to regular activate muscles in the plank pose. Therefore, perform the plank for 10 to 20 repetitions, holding each pose for two to four seconds. Sometimes a comprehensive fitness assessment will test how long you can hold a plank. This is good simply as a metric but not as an ongoing way to workout.
- Looking up: To keep the spine neutral you should be looking at the floor with your chin pulled in. A good queue for this is to think about pulling the back of the head toward the ceiling, not the top.
- Progressing too quickly. Make sure you have each of the joints in the best position possible before moving on. Most people want to move on before they’re ready to.
- Not keeping the hips neutral. Both the right and left hip should be parallel to the floor. Unless doing a dolphin pose, you should never move into hip flexion.
- Doing a plank at the end of the workout. Activating your core muscles before you workout fires them up. This will increase the likelihood that you’ll carry good form throughout your spine and body for the duration of your workout. When you do a plank, and abdominals in general, at the end of the workout, you’re missing out. At this point, the body is already fatigued and you won’t get the same benefit. It can be part of a dynamic warm up (movement prep) or part of a functional fitness workout program.
- Expecting to see muscles of the core from a forearm plank pose. The plank is not high intensity. Also, the rectus abdominis is the muscle group people think of when they imagine a six-pack. This muscle is not under extreme stress during a plank. Nor will it grow in size. Instead, you would have to do weight crunches or something similar to expect this muscle to grow bigger.
How To Make A Plank Variation
Once you master the plank on your forearms, you can try other variations.
- Straight arm plank: After you’re good at forearm plank on your knees, the straight arm plank is another way to grow core strength without advancing too quickly. Because extending the arms makes you more vertical, it’s a little easier than the standard elbow plank.
- Dolphin pose: This is similar to the forearm plank and is a yoga pose and term. Instead of keeping the hips neutral, you flex through the hips, lifting high.
- Side plank: This can be a hand or forearm pose. The body turns sideways and you support yourself either on the right arm or left arm. Other joints along the body stay in the same position as the standard plank.
- Stability ball plank: Here, the plank pose can be done as a forearm or hand plank. This means you can have either the hands or the elbows on the stability ball.
- Medicine ball plank: Because of the smaller surface area, the best way to do this is to put one foot or both the right foot and left foot on the medicine ball. It poses a greater challenge to the plank pose and also, because of the inversion, increases the strength requirements of the arm and shoulder.
- Single-arm plank: Slowly accept the weight onto the right arm, fully extending the left arm. Hold, then repeat on the opposite side.
- Single-leg plank: Like the single-arm version, slowly accept the weight onto the right leg and perform a leg lift with the other. Return to the starting position then repeat on the other side.
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