Its undeniable that plank exercise has become a mainstay in the fitness community over the past two decades. This gives us our today's discussion point. What is plank? Who invented it? What are its benefits? In what all ways can it be performed?‘The Plank’ was introduced initially by Joseph Pilates, a renowned German physical trainer and the founder of the pilates exercise regime, as a muscle fortifying exercise, which he termed “leg pull front”.What is a Plank exercise?The Plank, or planking, is an isometric core strength exercise that involves maintaining a position similar to a push-up. It is an exercise that works your core muscles and improves your strength, balance and endurance. The exercise is named 'The Plank' because, when done properly, you should be able to keep your body straight and rigid, like a plank of wood.Why should you start doing Planks? What are its benefits?Planking is a great way to add strength-building to your exercise routine. Variations exist to help people of all ability levels.Even though a 1-minute plank can feel like a lifetime, the calories burned in that One minute are approx. 3.68 calories. Guinness World Record lists the record for longest duration of a front plank, resting on elbows, as 9 hours, 38 minutes and 47 seconds set by Josef Šálek from Czech Republic on 20th May 2023.The Plank is one of the best exercises to build core muscles. Core muscles actually consist of many different muscles that stabilize the spine and pelvis to create a solid base or support. By having a strong core, it will help your performance in sports and other various exercises.Muscles used during Front PlankPrimary: Erector Spinae, Rectus Abdominus, Transverse Abdominus, Internal Obliques and External Obliques.Secondary: Trapezius (traps), Rotator cuff, the Anterior Deltoid, Lateral Deltoid and Posterior Deltoid muscles, Pectorals (pecs), Serratus Anterior, Glutes, Quadriceps, Gastrocnemius and Soleos.The back and spine are a vital part of our body which we use for ordinary activities like sitting, sleeping, walking or bending. The core muscles play a far more critical role than flexing our spine. The main job for our core muscles is to stabilise the spine, to keep it straight. The abdominal muscles are also the spine's primary defense against the forces of gravity. If we didn't have abdominal muscles, we would simply be unstable and would not be able to walk around because gravity would push us down. The sports scientists have now established, that to have better results from your abdominal workouts, you should focus on stability through using different versions of the Plank. You do not need any equipment to do the Plank and it only takes a few minutes to perform each day.. Plank and its variations1. Kneeling plankIf you're new to planks or haven't done them in a long time, you may want to start with a modified version of the forearm Plank.This takes pressure off your lower back and will still give you a great core workout. Over time, you can progress to the traditional Forearm Plank.Lie on your stomach with your forearms on the floor. Be sure your elbows are directly under your shoulders.Press your forearms into the floor and raise your torso off the floor while keeping your knees, toes, and elbows touching the floor. Keep your core tight and your neck in neutral position (avoid looking up or down), and avoid lifting your hips or dropping them by tucking in your pelvis.Hold this position for 30 seconds, or as long as you can while maintaining proper form.Pro tip: You may wish to use a yoga mat/ knee and elbow pad if it's more comfortable for your elbows and knees.2. Straight arm (full) Plank/ high PlankAs you build up your strength, try increasing the difficulty by transitioning to 'Straight Arm Knee Plank' then to Forearm Plank' then to a 'Straight-arm Plank', also known as a high plank.Start on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees slightly behind your hips. Push your hands into the floor and raise one knee at a time off the floor. Straighten both legs, so you're in a straight line from heels to head. Ensure that your hands and shoulders are aligned, feet are hip-width apart and core is engaged. Hold for 30 seconds or as long as you can maintain proper form.3. Reverse PlankThis full-body exercise targets several muscle groups, including your glutes, hamstrings, abs, oblique, triceps, and shoulders. Instead of facing downward, you will position yourself with your stomach toward the ceiling. Sit tall on the floor with your legs extended in front of you.Place your hands behind you on the floor, with your fingertips pointed toward your feet.Engage your glutes, core, and arms to lift your hips, forming a straight line from heels to shoulders. Ensure that your shoulders are drawn down, away from your ears. Avoid dipping your hips by slightly tucking your pelvis. Hold this for 20-30 seconds, or as long as you can while maintaining proper form.Pro tip: Be sure to keep your hips stable and upper body strong while lifting. To make it easier, place your hands on an elevated surface such as a step or bench..4. Spider-Man Plank (knee to elbow)Try these “Spider-Man” Planks to feel the burn in your oblique, abs, and lower body.Start in Full Plank position. Pull your right knee toward the outside of your right elbow and then push it back to return to a plank position. Make sure your knee is open out to the side, so your inner thigh hovers over the floor as you move your leg. Exhale as your knee comes forward and inhale as you push it back. 8-12 reps on each side. Aiming for 20 reps as you get stronger.Pro tip: Maintain proper form by keeping your hips elevated, and avoid swaying side to side..The bottom linePlanks are an excellent strength workout to add to your fitness routine.Whether you're a beginner or an advanced exerciser, there are many plank variations you can try.With these variations, you can keep challenging yourself and building your stability and strength to help prevent injury and improve your overall health.Dr Nilaya Janorikar is a Consulting Physiotherapist.