Jun 24

Push Ups and Planks are Hard!  Always Room for Improvement!


Planks and Push Ups are forms of exercise in which one holds themselves up in a prone position.  The prone position of the body is when the front of the body is facing the ground or laying face down on the ground.  Supporting oneself in this position requires a particular set of coordination and muscles acting in unison.  Strength in the prone position can benefit our performance as humans in many ways throughout our everyday lives.

First, let’s look at why you would need to strengthen your body from this position.  Many movements throughout the day require you to be able to manipulate and stabilize objects that are in front of you.  For example, reaching out to get something, turning your steering wheel on your car, doing the dishes, pushing your BBQ to the other side of the deck…  These activities require performance from the pushing muscles of the upper body.  Some of the main pushing muscles are the pectorals, deltoids and triceps.  Extending the hands out and pushing something or reaching for an object uses the muscles responsible for arm extension and pushing movements.  In the case of this article, one can see that supporting the body from a prone position with the elbows locked out can help strengthen these examples of our pushing muscles’ performance.

Another reason to why it is important to strengthen your body from this prone position is because the posture of the trunk and core must be correct to perform the Plank and/or Push Up exercise safely and effectively.  I like to call the linear relationship between the thighs and upper body the “trunk-to-floor” angle.  By maintaining a straight trunk-to-floor angle while performing a plank; you will be activating the postural muscles surrounding the spine which are critical for good posture when standing or sitting throughout our stressful days.  As humans in this very busy era, we stand a lot and work very long hours in our jobs and activities.  Throughout the day, we can let gravity get the best of us and forget to have good posture.  An example of forgetting about good posture might be sagging forward at the head and chest region or sitting in slouched position with the shoulder blades rolled forward and neck drooping.  By performing a plank exercise in the prone position, we are putting positive stress on the muscles that we use to stabilize ourselves when standing and sitting throughout the day.  This positive stress will strengthen the postural muscles of the abdomen region and the muscles going up and down the spine.  Therefore, exercising the muscles of postural stabilization that we use while in vertical position throughout our day will substantially benefit our performance in our everyday lives when standing or sitting.

In addition to stabilizing oneself in this plank position assisting posture and coordination in pushing movement, planks in the prone position can assist us in an underrated exercise that a lot of people are afraid to admit they need improvement in.  This technique is the PUSH UP.  The Push Up is a very complete upper body pushing movement.  While performing a push up, the triceps, pectorals and anterior deltoids are utilized in unison with the muscles of postural stabilization.  This is common exercise that is avoided because it is challenging for most people.  This challenge is usually seen as a daunting, scary task… so people unfortunately avoid it.  However, there is a solution to make the Push Up more manageable… and that is by doing the Straight Arm Plank.  By maintaining a plank with arms extended for a prolonged period of time, the triceps, pectorals, core and thighs are being isometrically contracted.  This means that your upper extremity muscles, trunk muscles and lower extremity muscles are still doing work, but not to the extent of work that they do when performing a full push up.  Therefore, by holding still for period of time, you are working the same muscles that one uses in a push up.  These are the same muscles, just worked in a different fashion.  The Straight Arm Plank is more manageable than a standard push up.  To get better at Push Ups, put Straight Arm Planks into your weekly fitness routine.  Over a series of a few weeks, you will notice a huge improvement in your Push Up performance.

Sometimes a Push Up can be a challenging and daunting task.  To get better at this movement, you have to start somewhere.  That is why instilling these little habits into your program will help to improve your efficiency and effectiveness of the Push Up.  Remember, practicing these sometimes overlooked movement and slowly sprinkling them into your exercise routine will make a more improved individual physically in the future.  Perhaps do a set of 30 seconds of Straight Arm Plank before your exercise routine.  2-3 days a week of this will make significant improvements to your fitness and physical performance.

Here’s a great video on some instructions on how to properly perform and modify the Elbow Plank and Straight Arm Plank.


Now go do some planks.