The plank is one of the most popular core exercises— some say Joseph Pilates invented it — but it can also be one of the most challenging and daunting for clients to execute correctly.
For July’s Exercise of the Month, Merrithew™ Lead Instructor Sarah Jarvis explains how to regress the plank using our largest Mini Stability Ball™ for support around the pelvis to help clients gradually build up enough strength to do it on their own.
This movement sequence comes from our ZEN•GA® Mat Program, and emphasizes the concept of Yield, one of the four Mindful Movement Principles of ZEN•GA.
This principle is about the connection we have with our environment. It addresses the relationship our limbs have with a surface, but also the energetic connection we must find when not in contact with a surface, which helps us achieve muscular connectivity. Our focus is to find the right amount of tone in the body so there is a balance between the push and pull happening on all sides of the body.
In this exercise, it’s important to connect the forearms to the floor in order to prevent a collapse through the scapulae/upper torso and to activate the scapulae stabilizers; it’s also important to push the heels into the wall to isolate the glutes/hamstrings. The pull up away from the ball slightly engages the abdominals, and lastly, the energetic connection from the head to the tailbone creates that length through the back of the body which is key to good alignment. Without these cues, the client does not experience total body connection, risks collapse and poor body alignment.
Experiment with connecting and releasing the plank using the Mini Stability Ball for support incorporating the cues mentioned above to achieve the correct form, connection and alignment.
Then, try maintaining the plank and adding in some forward and back rocking to get some heat through the entire body and challenge alignment.
- Make sure the ball is inflated to the length of your humerus as much as possible. This will ensure that you’re not starting in thoracic extension or flexion. Balls inflate to different sizes due to the nature of the material so it’s good to purchase a few balls so you have a variety of sizes for clients
- Place the ball around the pelvic triangle, just below the navel between the ASIS and pubic bone
- Stack shoulders and elbows in alignment with hands in fist position or flat on the floor
- Extend legs and press heels back into the wall to engage the glutes and hamstrings
- Knees are straight but watch hyperextending the knees. Toes can be in extension with pressure into the ball of the foot (forefoot)
- Elongate the neck, reaching top of head to opposite wall, keeping gaze down
- Press into arms, grounding into the mat, feeling a tautness under the armpits as the lats and serratus anterior engage. Scapulae should lie flat across the rib cage with the thoracic in neutral alignment. Do not overly-depress the scapulae
- Maintain a neutral pelvis and lumbar spine, ensuring that you’re not sinking into the ball
- Watch to make sure the rib cage doesn’t pop— tautness of the abdominals will help
- To add challenge, place the ball closer to one side of the hip so one hip is left unsupported. This provides a rotational challenge to the obliques
Spot the difference: ZEN•GA® Plank
Ideal position: Neutral pelvis and spine, appropriate amount of ‘yield’ (connection) into the forearms and heels and an energetic connection from the top of the head to the coccyx (tail bone), a sense of lifting away from the ball and not sinking the bodyweight into the ball. The ball should just be gently supporting the pelvis/hips.
Poor postural alignment to look out for:
Pushing too hard into the mat (too much ‘yield’ leads to propping or too much tone) can round the thoracic and over protract the scapulae.
Popping the rib cage, extending the thoracic and cervical means there’s not enough abdominal connection. Gaze should be down.
If your scapulae are retracted, you’re pushing too little into the mat (too little ‘yield’ leads to collapse or too little tone).
If knees are bending, you’re losing the connection in the quads and not connecting the glutes and hamstrings, which support the lower body. When the lower body is disconnected, often the upper body, specifically the arms and shoulders, take all the load. The wall is key for many people who struggle with activation of the glutes and hamstrings. Often without the push of the heels into the wall the posterior connection is lost or minimal, providing less support from the lower body. There should be a full body connection in the plank.
If the ball is positioned under the tummy, this can be uncomfortable and less supportive for those still learning proper engagement
Discover more videos from the Exercise of the Month series >