Fitness · Health

Body Stability Exercises — Progressive Planks

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This is another post in our series of Fitness Saturday exercises, workouts, and expert tips appropriate to women in the second half of life. Jonathan Urla, a certified advanced health and fitness specialist, shares three basic plank exercises to train and strengthen the core. 


One of the “newest” methods of training the core is holding the body stable while resisting gravity and/or movement. This actually works the core muscles in a more functional way than traditional crunches or sit-ups. I put the word “newest” in quotations because these types of exercises have been used in Pilates, yoga, and martial arts for many decades. Efficient stabilization requires the co-contraction of many muscles in the body at the same time, many of which are not consciously engaged on a regular basis.

In Pilates, it is not just important to stabilize the body, but to also be holding the body in ideal alignment, and lengthening the body as well, so that the force of your contraction doesn’t compress on the spine or other joints. One of the core stability exercises commonly done now is the “plank”, which is where you hold the body in a horizontal straight line. Since your feet and your hands (or arms) are far apart to keep the center of the body from falling down it invariably involves your core muscles to support the bridge between the two distal points. Drawing in your abs while simultaneously engaging the muscles along your spine to reach long with the torso is akin to pulling a rope tight. Everyone knows that a slack rope is less stable than a taut one.
There are many different kinds of planks and the correct form is essential to get real benefit and not strain yourself. Today we will learn three basic planks, one each for the front, side, and back of the body. Plus, I’ll show you how to progress the exercises after you become more skilled at practicing them.

Note: All exercises should be done on a thick, non-slip (sticky) exercise mat. Some yoga sticky mats are too thin to protect your elbows if placed on a hard surface, so you may want to fold the mat to double the thickness.
Forearm Plank


From your hands and knees, place your forearms in a parallel position on the floor under your chest area. Try to have your arms a little narrower than the width of your shoulders. Draw your shoulders down toward your hips and shift your body over your arms so your chin is at the level of your wrists. Press into the floor with your forearms and contract your chest muscles to keep your torso up so your upper back is not sinking in between your shoulder blades.


Next, reach back one foot and place the toes onto the floor. Engage the muscles in that leg to hold it straight, and then reach the other leg back straight and place the toes on the floor so your body is now in a straight line parallel to the floor (Image 2). If you have a floor mirror, look at yourself and see if you are straight or if your hips are up or sagging down. Try to hold yourself straight in this position for ten seconds.


To progress, hold the position for 20 seconds or practice lifting a leg up and down for a few reps.

Next Page: Forearm Plank from Knees

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  • Heather Scearce October 19, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    I love planks and give them to my Pilates clients. This is a great article! I will print this off and share with my team.

    Heather Scearce
    Conscious Body Pilates
    Seattle, WA