Linkage and Tension
The plank is one of the fundamentals of strength training. In fact, I think the word strength training turns some people off coz it is a bit scary. Let's try again.
The plank is one of the fundamental ways in which you re-train yourself to use your body the way it should be.
Even as you progress in your skills, how well you can plank continues to play a rather important role. Because your skill on planking keeps improving in subtle and invisible ways. Let me explain.
- The plank is an expression of linkage. From head to toe, your muscles and joints link with each other to create absolutely no weak links in the chain.
- The top of the squat is a plank with a load on you. The top of the swing is a plank with a bell pulling you away. The deadlift is a moving plank.
- How well you can create and maintain this linkage determines how well you learn to move and express your body.
- The plank is also about creating tension. How much can you tense all the muscles in your body? Our muscles are already a bit tense, called muscle tone. If they were fully off, we would collapse into a bag of bones. Squeeze your fists - you just increased the muscle tone around your fist and forearm.
- Thus, the plank allows you to get better at linkage and tension.
The heavier loads you need to lift, or the faster you need to run, or the higher levels of skill you seek in your domain, these two fundamentals play a huge role.
And you can constantly keep working on them via your plank and its progressions.
Upping the Intensity
The mind needs to get better at talking with the body. The signals to tighten up and move in a certain fashion comes from there. That's why, when you start off, you feel ungainly but slowly, as neuromuscular coordination improves, you start to lift more, look better and all that.
One of the simple ways we improve our skills is by increasing the intensity of the exercise. Simply put, if you add more weight to your squat, you will automatically have to create more tension and better linkage. Or you fail.
Many exercises use leverage to up the intensity of the exercise as well. They all work. The idea is to get to improving our skill. And intensity teaches this like no other.
Most of you rush to lift more weights or run faster or run longer. Yes, while that's what I said about upping the intensity, you do this only on a firm foundation. And you never neglect the fundamentals.
I've done this. Rushed to lift more load coz it is a rush. It is fun.
You can learn from my mistakes or make your own and then learn from it.
Do not be in a rush to up the intensity.
My best recent plank
While I plank as part of my warmup in almost every training session, there is an upper limit on how much tension I am able to create neurologically. This is simply a matter of me training my mind.
It is a skill - the skill of tension and relaxation. The higher up the athlete chain you go, the better they are at this. Why are some people able to lift crazy weights - not just their training etiquette and all that but they've worked on the skill to tense their muscles more. And if you can do this without props i.e. if you can create as much tension to lift 20 kilos as you create when you lift 75 kilos, you are on to something. That's a great skill.
Our content team does some amazing work - check them out over here. Recently, they were working and I got to goof around with them. It ended up with Coach Sudeep, all 75 kilos of him, sitting on me while I planked.
The linkage and tension I automatically generated was a new level that I have not done in my planks or weighted movements. He first sat with his legs on the floor and slowly transitioned to putting his full weight on me. And my body automatically started creating more tension and linkage. There were some gaps that I did not know existed that were tightened up. For example, how much I could pull up my quads and tense them, as well as how much I could drive my heels down - the intensity made me reach a higher level.
Don't do this at home
Which, of course, you are gonna.
The learning from something like this, or squatting a crazy load, is to bring it back into the other parts of your training. My mind and body accessed this and I need to keep working at accessing this. Now that it knows to generate this much tension and linkage, if I can learn to do it without Sudeep sitting on me, that's a gargantuan software upgrade.
Remember, the hardware's already there. We chip away at getting it better. But the software is something we tend to neglect, and that's what this 10-second plank helped me with.
Now that I know what's possible and more importantly, my body has felt it, I can work on re-create it.
If there's one simple point to this story, it is this. Learn to lift your light weights as if they were heavy. That's how your heavy weights become light.
Don't do this at home. Except that's an obvious signal for you to do it immediately. Please stay sensible. I have had 12+ years of training experience and I can press half my bodyweight.
- Do not start off with someone heavier than you.
- Do not have them jump or stand on you.
- Have them sit with their feet on the floor. And slowly put more weight on you.
- Play around with it. Be sensible.