The first time one hears about plank, the reaction is generally one of disbelief: are there really exercises to be executed just…stand still? But what kind of workout will it be? What it it for?
Then one day you try to do this blessed plank and realize that getting to even stand still for 60 seconds is a feat that you will certainly not rank among the easiest you have ever done.
What is the purpose of the plank? It is meant to fortify the core, and it is just one type of exercise-which to differentiate it from the others, we will call “static” (meaning you don’t have to move to perform it)-that is meant to strengthen the core, that is, the part of the body from the shoulders to the abdomen. Why is it important to develop it if you only need legs to run? Because it is not true that you only need them, and even during an physical activity that predominantly uses the lower limbs, the contribution of the rest of the body is crucial. A well-trained core makes running more efficient and prevents many injuries. In short, core training is always a good idea.
Explaining what are the biggest misconceptions surrounding this type of training was done on Trailrunner Magazine medical yoga instructor Rachel Land, who makes the not-so-obvious assumption that the more brutal and challenging the core workout, the more it means it will be effective. No, things are not exactly like that.
1. If you have done it right you have a sculpted abs.
We should also talk about the cult of the flat abs and the six pack. Does the fact that you have a six pack really mean you did the core workout perfectly? I like to think-ironically-that these are beers, i.e., the first defendants in the case of no six-pack, but another way of calling this phenomenon is “turtle.” By that logic, the more you have them like this, the better the training has been.
This set of muscles is known as the rectus abdominis, and taken alone, their contribution to the core is important but not sufficient for optimal core function. In other words, there are plenty of other equally important muscles around the rectus abdominis that you need to train with special exercises.
The good news is that having the turtle does not necessarily mean having a perfect core, and not having one does not mean not having (a crazy core).
2. By shortening the muscles you strengthen them
Contracting the muscles-such as during a series of crunches, for example-is believed to be a very effective way to fortify them. And it is true but it is not the only one. So too is isometric contraction, and “isometric” means without varying the length of the muscle fibers.
How to practice it? For example, stopping “hovering” while performing a series of abdominal crunches or while practicing the boat position.
Similarly, it is very useful to use eccentric contractions, for example-and always during the execution of the boat-when slowly bringing the neck and shoulders back toward the ground.
3. You have to smash yourself doing core workouts
While it can be (and is!) very rewarding to feel exhausted after a core session, it is also true that it is equally important to work on the flexibility and mobility of the muscle groups involved. As in, they should not just be turned into steel but rather into a mechanism that is very strong but also capable of dynamism and mobility of its component parts.
That is why it’s useless to have bulletproof muscles if they are not as elastic and plastic, also because during running (or biking or swimming) it is flexibility that you will need, more than brute strength.
It is no coincidence that at the beginning we were talking about the importance of core also to prevent injury. Imagine at this point that the core is the central node of the system that distributes loads and forces as you run: the more flexible it is, the better these are moved and redistribute the forces acting on your body during movement.
Understand how it is not enough to have a developed core but how equally important it is to have a flexible one as well: in fact, the faster it reacts, the less likely it is that a movement will be mishandled and turn into an injury.