There are many different ways to improve your current exercise routine. What about doing weighted planks, what benefits can you expect?
A weighted plank is simply doing the plank exercise while you carry external resistance with your body in the right places. For this, you want to choose a weight that can stably rest on your lower back or butt. A weight plate or a sandbag are examples of suited types of weights. You can also use a weighted vest.
To do a weighted plank lie on your stomach while already resting your forearms and your front feet already resting on the ground. Ask a partner to put the extra weight on your lower back or butt. You can also try to put it there yourself but this will be more challenging.
Raise your body so that it is in a straight line from your shoulders to your heels. Hold this position for an extended period of time. Slowly your body back onto the ground when you’re done.
The best weight, both quantity and in what form, for weighted planks varies from individual to individual. If you are not sure how much weight would be right for you, you can start with light or no weights and slowly build up from there. In what form is mostly a case of personal preference and what you have available.
You do have to keep in mind that adding weight to regular planks increases your injury risk. Make sure you can do regular planks without a problem before adding any external weights to the exercise. Especially because your lower back is such a sensitive body part.
Some people question how useful weighted planks can be but adding weights to your regular planks can offer you some of the following amazing benefits.
1. Helps you build more muscle
Planks are mainly a strength training exercise, which means they are mostly for improving muscle strength and endurance. Extra muscle is not only beneficial for your health in many ways but it is also considered to be visually appealing.
Some of the muscles you work out with planks include:
- Erector spinae
Generally the more weight you have to move, the more muscle you will build with an exercise. That’s one of the reasons why people go to a gym instead of doing bodyweight exercises at home.
As a strength training beginner regular planks are a great bodyweight exercise choice to build ab muscle mass. That being said, at some point your body weight may stop being enough resistance to build extra muscle mass with planks. When this is the case you can start doing weighted planks to be able to build extra muscle mass.
Planks are a type of isometric exercise. In simpler words, this means that you engage your muscles in a more static way, without moving a lot. On the other hand, you have isotonic exercises where you engage your muscles in a dynamic way, by moving.
Isotonic exercises are generally more useful for building muscle. That means that the other isotonic weighted ab exercises are likely better than planks for building bigger ab muscles.
Keep in mind that before you are able to see your bigger abs you need to lose enough body fat. For this planks are not very helpful.
2. Can improve athletic performance
Getting better at a certain sport or exercise isn’t necessarily done by doing these activities more. Cross-training which is training in a different sport can be useful.
A training exercise like planks is done to strengthen core muscles. Weighted planks instead of planks with just your body weight even more so.
One study observed that 6 weeks of core strength training led to a significant improvement in 5000 meters running performance compared to the non-core strength training group (1).
Another small study measured that a 6-week core strength training program improved performance in 50 meters front crawl swimming compared to no core strength training (2).
3. Helps you build fast muscle
Not all muscle is the same, it can be made of different types of muscle fibers. These different types have different properties with accompanying advantages and disadvantages.
A common categorization of these muscle fibers is “type 1, slow-twitch muscle” and “type 2, fast-twitch muscle”. Your muscle groups are not made of one or the other, they are made of a certain ratio of type 1 vs type 2 fibers. The way you train can influence this ratio (3).
The type 1, slow-twitch muscle fibers are generally more useful for longer duration workouts like jogging, swimming at a low tempo, cycling at a low tempo,… Basically activities at intensities you can do for an extended period of time.
The type 2, fast-twitch muscle fibers are generally more useful for short duration, fast body movement workouts like sprints, powerlifting, javelin throwing,…Basically activities at intensities you can only do for a short period of time.
As a strength training beginner bodyweight planks will initially help you build type 2 muscle fibers. Once you get to a point where planks start being a less intensive exercise they will help you build more type 1 muscle fibers. If you add external weights at this point you can continue building more fast type 2 muscle fibers.
4. Improved bone density
This is helpful for avoiding broken bones. Depending on your age you may not be that worried about something like this right now. However, exercising right now can help you avoid broken bones in 40 years. The things you do today have an impact on the future.
The way many parts of your body work is that by challenging them you set in motion processes that strengthen these body parts. The same goes for your bones, by putting pressure on them you make them stronger in the long term.
Weighted planks put more pressure on your bones than bodyweight planks. This in turn will benefit your bone density in the long term.
5. Makes your planks more time-efficient
Another benefit of weighted planks is that they can help you decrease the time it takes to get in a good workout. A good workout session isn’t necessarily about duration.
For example to build muscle you basically want to put enough strain on your muscles so muscle growth processes start. This doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time out of your day.
A more intense cardio workout can train your cardiovascular system in a shorter amount of time than one at a lower intensity.
Doing weighted planks instead of bodyweight planks can help with both of these things. Even just for individuals at an intermediate strength training level bodyweight planks can take a while to feel challenging. This benefit of weighted planks is especially useful if you have trouble finding enough time throughout your day to fit in a workout.
6. Improves posture
When doing planks, even more with weighted planks, with the right technique you train muscles that are important for a good posture.
Improving your posture will help you avoid related injuries. One small study even suggests that open non-verbal displays, which a good posture helps with, are attractive (10).
Keep in mind that your abs are not the only muscles that are important for a good posture. Other muscles like your back muscles and even your glutes (butt muscles) play a role as well. You can do a lot of ab workouts and still have a bad posture.
All in all, it is amazing that you can get so many important benefits from making one change in your plank exercise routine.
One thing you need to remember is that even though there are benefits to weighted planks, your injury risk is generally also slightly higher. Make sure your plank technique is good before adding weights and pay extra attention to technique when adding weights.
Especially if you are more of an exercise beginner or intermediate you want to start with regular planks without any extra weights and build up from there. Once you feel you can start doing weighted planks you can start with lower weights first and if that goes well go up to higher weights.
If you feel pain in any body parts it may be a sign you are overdoing it. In that case, you may need some rest, better lifestyle habits, a less intense workout schedule, or it may be a sign that doing weighted planks is not for you.
Also keep in mind that consistency is a big factor for a workout plan. The more you love the exercise you do the easier it becomes to do it consistently. If you like doing weighted planks, great. If not regular planks, plank alternatives, and other exercises can also offer a lot of benefits.