In the pursuit for a strong and stable core, one exercise stands out for its simplicity and effectiveness: the plank. Often acknowledged as the cornerstone of core workouts, the plank is more than just an ab toner. It’s a full-body integrator that critically links core strength to shoulder health. The beauty of the plank lies in its versatility and the significant impact it has on our body’s central supporting structures. In this article, we will explore why the plank is the core exercise you should be doing, exploring its benefits for both the core and the shoulders.

Understanding the Core-Shoulder Connection

The core is often misunderstood as “just the ab muscles,” but it’s a complex arrangement that includes the muscles around the ribcage and pelvis (including the pelvic floor), crucial for shoulder stability and function. One of the key players in this relationship is the serratus anterior, a muscle that wraps around the rib cage. This muscle acts like a bridge between the core and the shoulders, stabilizing the shoulder blades and facilitating their proper movement.

 

READ: PHYSICAL THERAPY & THE PELVIC FLOOR: THE PERFECT DUO

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A weak or underactive serratus anterior can lead to shoulder dysfunctions, such as impingement syndrome or instability. On the other hand, a well-functioning serratus anterior, supported by a strong core, can enhance shoulder mechanics, reduce the risk of injuries, and improve overall upper body strength.

 

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Additionally, the core’s role in maintaining spinal alignment and balance directly influences how the shoulders operate. A strong core ensures that the spine remains stable and supported during upper body movements, allowing the shoulder muscles to work more effectively. This synergy is essential not only for athletes but for anyone looking to maintain healthy shoulder joints and prevent injuries. If looking to further develop your core, check out our Core [P]rehab Program through the [P]rehab App by clicking below!

 

LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR CORE [P]REHAB PROGRAM

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Looking to level up your core strength? Look no further than our Core [P]rehab Program. This 12-week program will elevate your game when it comes to all things core, and yes, you will be getting a shoulder workout too, we guarantee it. Get started with a free 7-day trial today! 

 

One recent study looked at just how active the shoulder muscles are when performing a plank and you would be surprised to know that they are much more active than we originally thought with various plank variations causing increased activity of specific shoulder muscles…but more on that below (1.)

 

 

Why the Plank is the Core Exercise You Should Be Doing

The plank effectively engages the core, shoulder muscles, and serratus anterior, making it an unparalleled exercise for improving shoulder stability and health. By maintaining a plank position, you’re not just working your abs; you’re involving the entire core, including the often-overlooked serratus anterior. This is where the plank comes in as a vital exercise. It engages the serratus anterior along with the entire core, providing a stable foundation that supports healthy shoulder function. This engagement is vital for enhancing shoulder stability and preventing common shoulder issues. Let’s dive into some of our favorite plank variations and why they are crucial for both the core as well as the shoulder musculature.

 

READ: EVIDENCE BASED SHOULDER EXERCISES FOR MUSCLE IMBALANCES

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Mastering the Low Plank

The low plank, performed on your forearms, is the recommended starting point. Focus on maintaining proper form by engaging your core and keeping your back straight. Discomfort in your lower back or shoulders may indicate a need to adjust your form or reduce the duration of holding.

Once you’re comfortable holding the basic low plank for at least 30 seconds, start incorporating variations like the low plank with front reach or the low plank with bird dog to add an extra challenge. A recent research study demonstrated high muscular activation in the serratus anterior muscle during the low plank with bird dog (1). This variation can be an effective exercise in shoulder rehab or prehab.

 

Progressing with High Plank Variations

Progressing to high plank variations adds a new dimension to your core and shoulder training. The high plank hold is a step up from the low plank, challenging your core and shoulders even more due to the increased gravity resistance and change in elbow position. The bear plank, where you hold the high plank with knees bent and hovering above the ground, intensifies the engagement of the core and shoulders.

 

 

For dynamic variations, the high plank with shoulder taps (as seen above) and the high plank with toe touches (see below) are excellent choices. These exercises not only activate the core and shoulder muscles but also improve coordination and balance. The shoulder taps involve lifting one hand to the opposite shoulder while maintaining the plank position, demanding stability and strength from the shoulder girdle. Similarly, toe touches require reaching the hand to the opposite toe, further challenging your balance and core control. A recent research study demonstrated high muscular activation in the upper trapezius muscle during the high plank with toe touch (1).

 

LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR CORE [P]REHAB PROGRAM

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While this exercise can be a great variation in shoulder rehab, proper care should be taken for those with shoulder problems due to the increase in shoulder flexion with this exercise. If dealing with any shoulder pain, be sure to check out our Shoulder Rehab program through the [P]rehab App to begin to tackle that first.

 

Closing Thoughts

The plank is an excellent choice for building a resilient, functional body. Its impact on the core-shoulder axis is significant, and it’s easy to incorporate without needing any equipment. Whether you’re a fitness enthusiast or just starting your journey, make the plank the core exercise you should be doing. With its ability to progress and regress, it’s an exercise that can be adapted for any population. Remember, the strength of your core is the foundation of your body’s capabilities, and the plank is one of the keys to unlocking this potential.

 

References

  1. Can, E. N., Harput, G., & Turgut, E. (2023). Shoulder and scapular muscle activity during low and high plank variations with different body-weight-bearing statuses. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000004622

About The Author

Ryan Nosak, MS, CSCS

[P]rehab Writer & Content Creator

ryan nosak the prehab guysRyan was born and raised in Throop, Pennsylvania and he has worked in the world of fitness since he was 15 years old. Ryan realized he had a deep affinity for strength training and how it can alter the human mind, body, and spirit. He began his coaching career in high school by coaching his friends through strength training sessions, which inspired him to pursue a career in strength and conditioning.

Ryan spent 10 years as a Division 1 strength and conditioning coach with stops along the way at Penn State, Tennessee State, Vanderbilt, Robert Morris, Charlotte, and DePaul. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and operates his own training practice, RyNo Strength, out of Studio DelCorpo in Chicago, IL. He specializes in fat loss, body composition, strength, and sports performance training programs.

Ryan received his Bachelor’s Degree in Kinesiology from Penn State and a Master’s in Sport Management from Western Carolina University. In his free time, Ryan enjoys training for bodybuilding, eating at amazing restaurants in Chicago, and spending time with his wife, daughter, and dog.

 

Disclaimer – The content here is designed for information & education purposes only and is not intended for medical advice.

About the author : Ryan Nosak MS, CSCS, SCCC

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