Ask any strength and conditioning coach for their favourite core strengthening move and you’re more than likely to hear the word ‘plank’ in response. From front planks to side planks to planks incorporating motion, there’s no other class of exercise that improves core stability and strength the way that planks do.
Unlike traditional crunches or sit ups, planks train the front-of-the-body (anterior) muscles of your core (rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus and to a lesser extent, the interior and exterior obliques) to work the way nature intended them to; as spinal stabilizers, allowing your torso to remain upright in the face of gravity, rotation and other external forces.
Indeed, planking has become so popular that many online ﬁtness challenges not only require their participants to plank daily, but also encourage increasing the duration of the hold from one day to the next. It’s not uncommon to see reports of people holding standard front planks for 5, 6 and even 7 minutes!
Bodies, however, work best when opposing muscle groups are balanced in strength. Front-of-the-body muscles need to precisely balance back-of-the-body muscles for optimal function and performance, as well as to prevent sports-related injuries.
Rather than ever increasing the length of your plank, why not add a bridge, for balance?
Bridges are essentially reverse planks. Instead of relying on your anterior core muscles to hold your body in a straight line, bridging also requires you to activate the deep muscles of your mid and lower back; your quadratus lumborum, multiﬁdus and erector spinae. Bridging also requires the use of your glutes (maximus, medius and minimus) and hamstrings; important muscle groups for stabilization of the lower back and pelvis, as well as generating the power needed for rapid, sports-speciﬁc forward and side-to-side movements.
To perform a hip bridge, begin by laying on your back with knees bent and feet ﬂat on the ﬂoor, approximately hip distance apart. If you’re a beginner, extend your arms out at your sides, in ’T’ formation. Intermediate exercisers may place arms alongside their torso.
- take a deep breath in and pull your belly button towards your spine!
- contract your gluteals!
- exhale and push through the heels of your feet to raise your hips off the ground
- maintain a straight line from shoulders to knees for as long as you can!
- lower to the starting position, rest and repeat two or three times more
Ideally, you should be able to hold your bridge as long as you can hold a regular plank. Bridges and planks can be performed in super-set fashion within a workout, or practiced on alternating days, depending on your workout split.
Once you’ve mastered the basic hip bridge, try one of the following modiﬁcations to further increase the challenge:
- extend arms straight up over your chest with palms facing one another (reduced contact with the ﬂoor)!
- place feet on a stability ball (unstable surface)
- lift one foot off the ﬂoor, extending leg straight up (reduced base of support)
- place a weight plate or barbell across your hips (increased resistance)
- raise and lower the hips while performing any of the above options (dynamic stabilization)
- perform a hamstring curl on the ball or using a TRX suspension trainer (dynamic instability)