The plank exercise is probably my all time favourite move for riders. I incorporate it in some form for most my riders and there is good reason.
I conducted some research as part of my PhD which proved Event riders at higher levels perform better than their novice counterparts in this trunk endurance test. You can find the full abstract here if you are interested, Its Douglas 2012 page 109!
It is one of the exercises I include as a test for my riders when they start a programme and to track their progress throughout also.
How to do a plank.
- Start by getting into a press up position.
- Bend your elbows and rest your weight onto your forearms
- Your body should form a straight line from shoulders to ankles.
- Engage your core by thinking about bringing your belly button towards your spine.
- My personal cues are: ensure weight over shoulders (not leaning back), bring scapula together (avoid rounding shoulders)
- Hold this position for the prescribed time, or for as long as you can to test your isometric plank fatigue time,
How does this exercise transfer to my riding?
My PhD research shows that the two most activated muscles are 1) the rectus femoris (thigh) and rectus abdominis (trunk). Interestingly during the jump, the trunk muscles become more active than the thigh – this is due to the landing and braking required to stabilise the shoulders over the pelvis. In addition to requiring activation of these muscles, they are also required to be activated isometrically. This is where essentially the muscles are tensed but don’t move, like the plank. It is not just about strength benefits however, when you perform an isometric manoeuvre, particularly a total body one where the shoulders, trunk and limbs are isometrically controlling the position and stabilisation of the spine a few things happen in terms of cardiovascular and mechanical responses. These are:
- Blood pressure increases, This happens more dramatically with isometric exercise more so than dynamic exercise. This then;
- Dramatically increases heart rate to cope with the rise in blood pressure.
- As you need to stabilise your spine you increase Intra abdominal pressure which makes it more difficult to breathe,
- Which as a result further increases heart rate.
This is exactly the same physiological responses we see from riding horses, particularly when in the light seat or where jumping efforts are involved.
In short: this exercise is the best thing you can do, in my opinion!
How should I incorporate it into my programme?
The plank exercise can be incorporated as a warm up or as a functional part of your strength based programme. First, test how long you can hold a plank for as a one off. Then work around 70-80% of that time and repeat for 3-4 sets. For example, if you held a plank for 100s, do 3-4 sets of 70s planks. Work from there, if that was too easy increase by 5-10 s. Once you are holding a plank for 120s + each time, you need to start thinking about exercise progressions to make this exercise more challenging for you!
The plank is not an easy exercise however and you can modify it backwards if you find it painful in the shoulder capsule or lower back. You can place your knees on the floor as a early modifier, and a progression would be to lock out the arms in a straight position. As you are loading the body further away this position is actually easier than when the weight is on the fore arms.
Image: Plank with straight arms.
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Want to take it a step further? Head to the programme pages to find out about these great workouts specifically for riders. I would love to work with you personally too! Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want me to design you a bespoke programme.