How Men Over 40 Can Make Planks More Interesting

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.

One of my favorite exercises for core development and strength is the plank. With few exceptions, most men I’ve trained over 40 can do the standard version of the pose with few problems.

One day, just for kicks, I accepted a “plank-off” challenge from one of my younger buddies at the gym. He swore no one over 50 could ever beat him in his thirties, regardless of physical conditioning. After two minutes into the plank we both got a little bored, so my buddy decided to up the ante. Little did I suspect at the time, but he conned me into doing a more difficult offset plank, which requires you to balance on just one leg and one arm at a time.

I had not done the variation in quite some time, but he had been working on it just to take me on and exploit the advantage of youth. The offset plank works your core like the regular plank, but it adds an extra balance and anti-rotation challenge into the exercise. That makes it more challenging on all parts of the body–which is a great way for older guys to ramp up the effort in the workout without overtaxing the joints.

The offset plank starts much like the traditional version of the exercise, with your weight distributed on your forearms and feet. Make sure to squeeze your core and glutes to reinforce a straight spinal posture, and make sure to engage your shoulder blades. In this plank position your back should be flat and your core should not be sagging at all. Keep your head in a neutral position while looking down at the floor.

Now, with your body locked in place, you’re ready for the offset plank. First, raise your right arm off the floor and point it straight out in front of you. You will immediately feel more pressure in your core, grounded arm, rear deltoids, and traps. If you’re comfortable in that position, raise your left leg off the floor. You will immediately feel even more pressure in your core, glutes, quads and the hamstring of your elevated leg.

Aside from the total body strength necessary for the offset plank, the balance component intensifies the challenge. Not only is your core engaged to keep your body elevated, but now it is further engaged to maintain your balance. You also need additional strength in the glutes and shoulders to keep your arm and leg elevated, which engages your posterior chain muscles even more.

Unfortunately I did not win the “plank-off” challenge against my friend. That day I lost, and I’ve been waiting for a rematch for at least five years.

However, this is one exercise I do to this day because advancing age dictates that I get as much core and balance work in as possible. The offset plank is perfect for that purpose. If you have never done this plank variation before or working it back into your exercise routine, I would recommend holding the pose for only five seconds on each side of the body at a time.

Depending on your conditioning, it can be surprisingly tougher than it appears. Try four to five sets to get started, then increase the time as you become more proficient.

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