Sunday, December 23, 2012

Travelling Plank. (Progress The Plank And Make It More Interesting).

The Plank is probably one of the most popular 'core' exercises in every gym and studio in the world. But lets face it, holding a plank is boring. And once you can do it for 60 seconds you need to progress it on. Enter the Travelling Plank.

First things first, you need to be able to do a plank. If you can't hold a plank for 30 seconds, or if your lower back is bowing down like a false ceiling after a flood or your hips are so far in the air people think you are doing a downward dog yoga pose; then you need to work on your basic plank first.

If you can hold a plank, keep a neutral spine, brace if needed, keep a neutral relaxed neck then you are ready for the travelling plank.

See the video below for a demonstration.

How to do it

Before you start to move try a standard 3-point plank. This means lift one leg off of the floor and then try lifting one arm off of the floor. Try to go for a very small lift to begin with. Many people try to do a big range of movement and they have no control. You want to keep your hips level and only move the arm or leg a very small amount. Keep breathing! And keep control.

Next you are ready for the Travelling Plank. It is a cross-crawl pattern or contra-lateral arm and leg lift, in other words lift the opposite arm and leg. Then start to creep forward.

In the video above, you can see the first person doing the exercise(Carla) is staying very low to the ground, the movement has a fluid smooth quality to it. The forearms are pronated (palms down) and relaxed as they lift. This arm position puts the shoulder blades in a better position and stops people forming  a fist and tensing unnecessarily. Carla is also really getting the ankles flexing and extending to propel her forward. The 'core' stays stable and the rest of the body moves around it.

In the second part of the video you can see Nathan has a different technique. He is staying more rigid, it is not as fluid and he is holding longer between movements, his hips also move up and down more than Carla's. I prefer the more fluid technique, but both are valid. Also, to be fair to Nathan he had just finished an Olympic lifting and squat workout and was pretty much smoked.

Once you have moved forward, you can then move backwards. This is harder to grasp and not as smooth as moving forward. You will also feel the backward movement working muscles differently to the forward version, especially in the legs.

Time & Reps

Unlike the standard plank you have to think about this exercise. You can't just hang out for 2 minutes bored. It is more challenging than the normal plank, you wont be able to do it as long. I recommend creeping back and forward until your abs start burning or until your technique is compromised. There is no need to time or count reps, go by feel.

This is great variation to do in a circuit class, if you have a long stretch of mats, you can travel for distance, to the end and back. If you don't have much space, like in the video, you can move back and forward, for example, 2 steps, forward, 2 steps back, you can do this exercise on one mat if need be, though going for distance is more fun. Travelling forward 3 to 5 metres is challening to begin with.

Try It

As this is more challenging and mindful than a standard plank you wont be able to switch off and smash out hundreds of reps.

Dare I say it is more functional than the normal plank, as the core is stable while the arms and legs move, it helps to connect the body together. Much like all human gait, the opposite arm and leg are moving, you are also getting some shoulder stability and ankle mobility to boot. Now, I'm not saying it's a natural movement, you don't see any babies doing the travelling plank after crawling. However, it will challenge your core and co-ordination and is more fun than all the standard planks, and it is much harder than you think it is going to be.

As always, if your lower back hurts or anything else hurts - stop! Otherwise keep travelling until you feel that core working.