How Men Over 40 Can Make Planks More Challenging

Kirk Charles
·4-min read
Photo credit: EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER - Getty Images
Photo credit: EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER - Getty Images

From Men's Health

Author, fitness model, and trainer Kirk Charles, NASM-CPT CES, knows that as you get older, life can get more complicated. But that shouldn’t prevent you from being on top of your game. He’ll help to answer the tough training questions that come with age so you too can be Fit Beyond 40.

If you’re bored doing the traditional plank, now may be the time to spice up your workouts with the side plank.

Just like the traditional plank, it’s a variation that is the foundation for many other exercises. I highly recommend it for the older man who wants to build core strength and endurance, in a safe way. The side plank forces you to fight gravity from a different angle, and sets you up to move in different planes of motion than you might be used to (adding a row to work in the frontal plane, for example, makes you work in the frontal and sagittal planes). Many of my clients tell me that makes the side plank feel like a totally different core exercise, so it’s definitely one to add to your arsenal.

That’s especially true since the coronavirus lockdown where most people are doing more workouts at home, with less equipment, less space and mostly body weight to work with. All planks work the transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, multifidi, and obliques, but the side plank gives your obliques an extra challenge and some diversity to strengthen those muscles at a higher level.

To set up, lie on your left side with your left upper arm perpendicular to the floor. Your left shoulder should be directly stacked directly over your left elbow and your right leg should be stacked on your left leg. Raise your right arm straight up toward the ceiling with your right elbow fully extended. This is your starting position. All you must do is simply raise your body off the floor bracing your core and squeezing your glutes as you push upward. You should be supporting yourself totally on your left elbow and left foot. Ideally you want a straight line from your head, through your spine, core and legs, down to your feet.

In this up position the work begins. Your core must be totally locked in so your hips don’t dip toward the floor. Squeeze your shoulder blades together to lock in your shoulder girdle and your spine, so you don't slump. The side plank demands total commitment because now you’re supporting your weight on one arm, on one side of your body. This gives you a great shoulder stabilisation workout (muscles worked include serratus anterior, traps, rhomboids, pecs), which is something older men also need.

Isometric holds are great for stamina, using time under tension to increase your muscles' work load—so I’ve been using them with my clients for years, especially older ones who are experiencing more back issues. If it is difficult to hold the side plank position from your feet, drop down to your knees to shorten the lever. However, continue to keep a straight line from your head, through your spine and hips, to your knees. If you struggle to support yourself or experience shoulder pain, stop and consider speaking to a PT before you add the move to your routine.

To get started, try holding the side plank for 20 seconds, on each side of your body. Notice how your shoulders feel doing them. If you feel fine doing that, extend your time and shoot for 30, 45, then even 60 seconds. But like other plank variation, marathon hold sessions going beyond a minute aren't particularly effective. Cap your work at 60 seconds, working to hold perfect posture for the duration of the period rather than focusing on the clock.

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