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Plank guide, part 2: bracing, breathing and knee planks

In the first part of our plank guide, we found out about hollowing and the importance of finding the right posture before you start, as well as how much breathing affects our core strength. Now, we’re going to keep talking about breathing, and specifically bracing.

The main goal of bracing is to create a tightening in the abdominal wall through static contraction using all the core muscles. In doing this we can protect our spine when we exercise. It’s also important in everyday life, especially for sudden movements like coughing, lifting something heavy from the floor, vomiting or laughing.

When you hold this contraction, don’t suck your stomach in or push it out; your pelvis and spine should be neutral.

Try breathing in through your nose, allowing your stomach to expand, and then breathing out through your mouth… breathing out more… and more… and more. What do you feel in your stomach? Your stomach gets tighter and tighter, doesn’t it? Try to pull your navel in to position 3 (positions 1 and 2 are hollowing).

One thing that lots of people forget when they plank is breathing, yes – the same applies here! Lots of people tense up and hold their breath.

Try to perform a knee plank.
Lie on your front on the floor. Raise yourself up by supporting your body with your elbows. Move your pelvis to a neutral position (read more about the neutral position in section 1 of the plank guide).

Observe: How does your stomach look? Do you recognise its appearance from any of the pictures below?

If yes: you’re not engaging your core properly, so back up and try again. Find a neutral position in your pelvis, lift your pelvic floor slightly and repeat. Does it look better?

How long can you hold the position?

How does your lower back feel?

If your stomach feels flat and tight – hold the position for as long as you can and stop as soon as you feel your lower back cramping. Do NOT push through the pain. This means that your core muscles are not strong enough to do their job. So back up, rest, repeat and hold for as long as you can again. Note! Your stomach shouldn’t hang down or resemble a rooftop. The maximum time is 60 seconds.

The next step is to stretch out one leg, kneeling on the other knee as before. When you can do this plank without problems, you can move on to a full plank. I hope you can see that what we are doing makes it harder and harder for your core (rather than holding the position for longer and longer). Allow time for these different planks so that you can learn to find your core without too much trouble. Continue to breathe in all the planks with your stomach pulled in!

More advanced: Try planking with bracing.

Now try to tense your whole body even tighter while breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth (I want to hear you exhale!). Breathe in 5 times and out 5 times and then rest.

Next set: try breathing in 10 times and out for 10 maximal exhalations.

It’s more challenging, right?

Planking with bracing is a perfect example of what a braced body should feel like, as you tense your stomach, glutes, shoulders and the front of your thighs. A plank like this should be able to withstand all possible external forces! Imagine someone kicking you with their foot under your stomach, you should be able to withstand that kind of impact!

When you progress to heavier workouts like deadlifts, squats or kettlebell swings, this is exactly the kind of tension you want to feel in your stomach.

Photo Andreas Lundberg
Illustration Trainimal Woman

Updated January 14, 2022

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