The Plank: Strengthening the Core

The Plank is one of my favorite exercises in the Gym. Here’s my write-up cross-posted from Aches & Joints.


The core is commonly thought of as only your abs, but consists of multiple muscle groups in your abdomen, back and pelvis. Core muscles are engaged during all activities requiring a coordinated movement of the upper and lower body. They generate the force and power required for many activities, while simultaneously playing a foundational role in stabilizing the torso.

Our modern sedentary lifestyle does nothing to working these important core muscles and over time result in their weakening, and the consequent injuries from seemingly simple tasks.]

There are various ways to strengthen these core muscles. The PLANK, for instance, is easy to perform, effective and appropriate for any age and fitness level. With no special equipment, the plank can be performed on a carpeted floor or mat in your living room, in the gym between sets of other exercises, or at the end of a workout. Also, the plank literally only takes a minute!

In performing the plank, you hold a steady position by isometrically contracting the deep stabilizing abdominal muscles (transverse abdominus), while keeping the lower back (erector spinae and multifidi) stable, fighting fatigue and simultaneously building endurance. This exercise is not appropriate if you have any shoulder weakness or injury.


Step by Step: How to perform and hold the Plank
Plank Strengthening the Core Aches & Joints

  • Have a wrist watch or clock nearby to track time
  • Start with palms on the floor, shoulder distance apart (see above), then lower to forearms only with and elbows directly below the shoulders as demonstrated below
  • It may be easier for many to start with knees and elbows on a mat
  • Extend legs back, one at a time, straightening the knees and balancing on your toes
  • Keep your body straight as a plank (see below)
  • Relax your neck and look down at the floor
  • As you fatigue, there will be a tendency for your hips to sag. Squeeze your deep abdominal muscles and glutes, and hold your hips in line with the rest of the body
  • For starters, hold the position for 30 seconds and work up to 60 seconds or longer
  • Rest on your knees; when ready, repeat plank for two additional sets

Plank Strengthening the Core Aches & Joints


For a more challenging workout: In the plank position, alternately lift and move each leg outwards (see demonstration below)
Plank Strengthening the Core Aches & Joints


Julie Schlenkerman, Personal Trainer, Clubs at Charles River ParkThe Plank was demonstrated by Julie Schlenkerman, certified personal trainer at the Clubs at Charles River Park, Boston, MA.

Julie is an avid runner and ran the 2009 Boston Marathon in 3:16:14!

Here is wishing Julie the very best for the Boston Marathon tomorrow.

Run Julie Run!


From My Archives: Simple exercises & Related articles

Video: How to do a Pec Fly & Chest Press

I don’t do weights! But my trainer friends urge me to build muscle tone. “It will help your running,” they argue. I do anything which helps my running.
Continue reading “Video: How to do a Pec Fly & Chest Press”

Abs Express: Aphrodisiac Abs in 15 minutes

Here’s the Abs Express Class at our health club (Clubs at Charles River Park, Boston, MA). Its a quick 15 min class, once a week. But what a workout. Fast and tough! Give it a try and see if you can keep up with Certified Trainer, Pete ‘Rock’ Reynolds.

Pete entertains you during the entire routine. For this recording I pleaded with Pete to keep his comments PG, which he did. And he’s the go-to guy, anytime you need a quick workout tip. Thank you, Pete.

When you are onvacation, no more excuses, Just follow along with this video and do your crunches. 15 minutes, and as Pete likes to say, you’ll end up with aphrodisiac abs!


From My Archives: Simple exercises & Related articles

Vitamin D Prevents Fractures

A recent clinical review reported in the NY Times provides great news for older adults. A meta-analysis of 12 randomized clinical trials, together representing over 65,000 subjects suggests that Vitamin D reduces the risk for non-vertebral fractures by 20 % and hip fractures by 18%.
Continue reading “Vitamin D Prevents Fractures”

Scapular Exercises for Stronger Shoulders

Exercises for Strong and Healthy Shoulders
Shoulders permit our arms to move in a wide arc and perform elaborate activities. This mobility is due to superb coordination of muscles and soft tissues around the shoulder and shoulder blades (scapula, SKA-pew-la), and is essential for performing activities in a pain- and injury-free manner. See related article on Rotator Cuff complications impairing shoulder movement.

Conventional shoulder exercises strengthen the larger muscles but tend to overlook the mid-back muscles that stabilize the scapulas. This can often result in muscle imbalance and consequently, bad posture. Even non-shoulder exercises like running on a treadmill with shoulders slouched can lead to stiffness and pain. These conditions increase injury potential and thus the need for corrective exercises.

Michael Bento, personal trainer at the Clubs at Charles River Park, Boston, demonstrates simple exercises you can do at home to develop shoulder strength and protect them from injury. As an added bonus, these exercises also tone the all-important core muscles.

These exercises can be performed on a stability ball as shown, or on a work bench. Dumbbells or additional weights are not required. And as I surprisingly found out last week, you can do these scapular exercises while standing, starting with the arms in front! Yaay!


Common Starting Position for Shoulder-Scapula Exercises
scapular exercises for stronger shoulders

  • Anchor heels to a wall, toes on the floor and slowly roll out on a stability ball.
  • Rest upper abdomen on the ball and straighten body forming a line from ears to ankles.
  • Pull your shoulder blades down, tuck your chin and look at the floor.
  • Start with arms straight, hands in front of the ball (or bench), fingers lightly curled, palms facing each other and thumbs pointing forward.
  • In this position, your core muscles including abdominal and gluteus muscles are engaged in stabilizing your body.
  • For a challenging core-muscle workout, move your heels away from the wall as demonstrated above and use as starting position.

Continue reading “Scapular Exercises for Stronger Shoulders”

Marine Corps Marathon 2008: The Long Slog!

Marine Corps Marathon 2008
time: 4:33:10
My Slowest Marathon!


Its been two weeks and now I can write about my slowest marathon.

The Course and the Run:
I loved the first ten miles of this course. Leaving the Pentagon, the course works its way through the narrow streets of Arlington, VA. The mass of runners then worms their way over the George Washington Parkway and through the forests of Georgetown. It was a nice incline and the heavy breathing of runners filled the cool air. As we worked uphill, sunlight filtered through fall trees and only a few feet ahead, runners disappeared in fog mingling with mist from their breath. It was a beautiful slog. Then we raced down to the center of Georgetown to a large and raucous crowd. At that point, it was only mile Ten, and I was ahead of my expected 4:00 h pace!
Continue reading “Marine Corps Marathon 2008: The Long Slog!”

Heel Drop – Stretching Calf Muscles

The Heel Drop is another great exercise to stretch the calf muscles, the Achilles tendon, as well as the fascia under the heel. You can do this where ever you see a set of stairs. And it only takes a couple of minutes. One of my favorites before I head out for a run!

Stretching Calf Muscles, Meg Vitter

  • Look for a set of stairs with railings.
  • Hold on to railings for support.
  • Place the ball of your left foot on the edge of a step.
  • Place entire right foot on the step above for stability.
  • Gradually let the heel of your left foot drop, while keeping your leg straight.
  • Feel the stretch in the sole of your left foot, Achilles tendon and calf muscles.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat the stretch three to five times for each leg.
  • You can even repeat this after a run or a workout.

Demonstrated by Meg Vitter of Boston, MA.


Also read:
Treating Heel Pain or Plantar Fasciitis;
Heel and Achilles Tendon Stretch;
Toe Extension;
Precautions to take before starting new exercises

See other exercises at Aches & Joints

© Arun Shanbhag 2008

Foot and Toe Extension

Continues the Heel Pain and Plantar Fasciitis Series.


For most of the day, our feet are bound within stiff shoes and many of the soft tissues within the feet are infrequently used. This is a simple yet very effective exercise to stretch the heel and underlying plantar fascia … and bring life to those toes!

If you have heel pain, perform this stretch as you wake up and place your feet on the floor. This can also be performed while sitting in the office chair or on the couch.

  • Sit on a chair and place your ankle over the opposite knee.
  • Grip toes and gently pull them back towards the knee, while holding the ankle to prevent it from moving.
  • Feel the stretch in the sole of the foot all the way to the heel.
  • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat three times for each foot.

See related articles:
Treating Heel Pain or Plantar Fasciitis
Heel and Achilles Tendon Stretch
This article and archives are available at achesandjoints.org

Heel & Achilles Tendon Stretch

Continuing my Health & Fitness Series, as published in our patient newsletter, Aches & Joints.

Following up on the Heel Pain (Plantar Fasciitis) article from a few weeks earlier, here is the first of a series of exercises that can help recovery from heel pain.

This is a wonderfully effective warm-up before running, going for a walk, or participating in any sports. Or just do this stretch because you want to. This stretches the Achilles tendon as well as the calf muscles. Runners especially need to do stretch these before heading out and after returning from a run too.

You don’t need to go to a health club or gym to do this. Stretch in your office or waiting in the coffee line, or even during a walk in the park.

Enjoy and Share with others. Live well!
heel achilles tendon stretch, Meg Vitter

  • When out for a walk, find a wall to lean against. Even a tree will do.
  • Stand an arms length from the wall.
  • Place the leg to be stretched about 12-18 inches behind you.
  • Keep your toes pointed forward and slightly inward.
  • Bend your arms and gradually lean towards the wall.
  • Make sure your leg is straight and the heel of your back leg is pressed to the floor.
  • Feel the stretch in the calf and heel of the back leg.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds and return to starting position.
  • Repeat three times for each leg.

Stretches demonstrated by Meg Vitter of Boston, MA.


Also read:
Treating Heel Pain or Plantar Fasciitis
Precautions to Take Before Starting New Exercises
Article archives are available at www.AchesAndJoints.org

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