There is one exercise that seems to be VERY popular with singers. It’s the plank. This isometric exercise is supposed to engage all your muscles of posture.
If you’ve been looking at fitness challenges, you may have seen the now ubiquitous plank challenge where you progressively hold it longer and longer.
There is even a plank challenge for singers to sing while planking.
However, the plank may not be all that it’s cracked up to be. Staring down at the floor while up on your hands and toes at the top of a push up for five minutes may not have the benefits you are hoping for.
Is the Plank the right exercise for you?
Let’s start by examining who should not be doing the plank. Anyone who fits the following criteria risks injury.
If you have diastasis recti you should avoid the plank. This is a separation of the muscles of the mid abdomen usually associated with post-partum women, but really can affect anyone man or woman. It can be caused by obesity, rapid weight loss, weight lifting and improper form in abdominal exercises. Planks can exacerbate the problem.
If you are in the final trimester of pregnancy.
If you suffer from back pain you should avoid planks, though short interval holds may be possible with correct form. More on form later.
If you are obese, aside from the possibility of diastasis recti, the extra weight on the back, shoulders and wrists may be too much and can cause injury.
Watch the short video to find out alternative exercises to strengthen your abs.
How long should I hold it?
So you’ve decided to get on the floor and plank. How long should you hold it for? Well, that depends. The current consensus is that 10 to 60 seconds is sufficient and no more than 120 seconds. What really matters is: HOW LONG CAN YOUR KEEP GOOD FORM?
As singers we are mainly doing planks to improve our alignment and core strength. There is a difference between alignment and posture. As singers we usually like to talk of good alignment over posture because posture implies holding statically, which can mean tension.
Guess what? We hold planks statically. When we sing or for that matter in anything we do in day to day living, we seldom hold ourselves statically, so a long duration plank really does not fit the bill as a transferable skill.
Shorter bursts of 10 to 30 seconds of holding with 5 second rests in between are more representative of what you would do in life. So if you can't hold a full minute, then go with 6 sets or 10 second planks or 3 sets of 20 seconds, etc.
Long duration planks are more about mental toughness and bragging rights, though the longer you hold the plank, the more likely you are to relax form and end up hurting your back.
For the record, before I knew any better, I once held a 6 minute and 20 second plank and had a very sore back for days afterwards, though my triathlete friends were duly impressed. Longer does not necessarily mean stronger.
What is good form?
The common advice given for planking is to keep a straight line from head to heels, keeping alignment. Instead of thinking a straight line from head to heels, think more of keeping your back flat, with a slight incline, so a ball could roll all the way down from head to heel without getting caught in a curved back.
The usual straight line cue can result in hyperextension of the back or a slight dip in the hips for many people. Of course, a flat back may cause a table top surface, which isn't desirable either.
Here are a few more tips to add to the checklist:
IT can sound pretty convoluted and it is actually quite technical. Without seeing yourself and/or having a trainer help you with your form, it can be very difficult to get the proper form and contract the abdominal muscles correctly.
Watch the short video on plank form to see how to get the form you need.
Remember, when doing planks, only hold as long as you can maintain good form and keep the abdominal muscles engaged.
If you do want to sing while planking, doing it as a short warm-up or as a tool to find the correct engagement of the abdominal muscles will be helpful, but holding it for the full duration of a song is not recommended, as form is likely to suffer.