The goal of this series is to help coaches at the high school level and beyond expand their coaching “tool box” with practical movements, drills, and exercises – ones that aren’t just for show, but ones that can positively impact a training program.
Each week I will post an exercise along with a video demonstration, as well as a brief description.
Enjoy this week’s exercise!
Intro: The High Plank may not appear to be the most complex or sexy exercise, but to truly appreciate it, you must look past its face value.
The High Plank is certainly for you if you want to:
- learn to stabilize the trunk,
- strengthen the anterior core,
- learn to position the scapular properly,
- perform a truly clean and proficient push-up, and
- enhance posture and postural control
The actual value of the High Plank is so great, in fact, that we use it in our programs early and often. During Block Zero the High Plank sets the foundation for trunk stability training in subsequent blocks, and is also a part of our Push-up progression. It then becomes a part of our daily warm-up, and it is utilized frequently on recovery days. And, its many variations are used throughout the annual training cycle.
The value of the High Plank, though, only comes from executing it with precision; focusing on quality, not necessarily quantity or duration.
Goal: The goal of the High Plank is to first find, and then maintain a relatively neutral spine and pelvis, all while aligning the shoulder joint in a stable position. This entails 4 keys:
- The glutes should be active in order to posteriorly tilt the pelvis out of anterior tilt and into near-neutral.
- The anterior core shoulder be active in order to flatten out the lumbar spine into near-neutral.
- The chest should “open up”, thus extending the thoracic spine into near-neutral.
- The athlete should “push the floor away” as hard as possible to engage the serratus muscles and protract the scapulae toward their arm pits.
Maintaining these four keys is vital for unlocking the full value of the High Plank. And, if done right, this will make turn the plain-Jane plank into an incredibly challenging exercise for just about any athlete.
It can be difficult for athletes to hit all four of the above keys, though, which is why on Day 1 we teach the High Plank by starting them in the Quadruped position (on all fours). From here, I personally emphasize two points:
- I’ll demonstrate the Quadruped position and say “No soft shoulders” as I demonstrate improper shoulder position, and then say, “Push that floor way” as I push the floor away and protract the scaps properly.
- I tell them to “pull the belly button toward the spine” in order to avoid arching (extending) the lower back. Again, I demonstrate both good and bad here as well.
Note: in order to do this right, the athlete must have their hands in the Quadruped in the same position that we want them in the High Plank (in line with the shoulders – slightly wider than shoulder width – and knees right underneath the hips.
Once they demonstrate a sound Quadruped, we will simply tell them to bridge up into a High Plank by extending their knees. They should nearly all end up in the proper High Plank position – at least initially, until fatigue sets in.
Implementation: As mentioned earlier, the High Plank is highly versatile. I like to use it literally on Day 1 of training. Then, it becomes a part of the warm-up, used on recovery days, and progressed to be used in subsequent training phases.
Want to progress it? Here are a couple example progressions:
- You can add variability, such as the High Plank to A-Frame, where the athlete is asked to find the proper posture, hold for 3-5 seconds, leave it to execute the A-Frame stretch, and then return to the proper posture. A Push-up itself will also add variability and further challenge the trunk.
- You can take away a base of support by adding a leg lift or shoulder tap.
- You can have an external force apply resistance to the pattern, such as that of a Lateral Band Resisted High Plank.
- A partner can also “perturb” the posture by applying rhythmic (and eventually random) instability.
These are only a handful of the many variations and progressions/regressions that can be used with the ever-valuable High Plank.