Exercises You Should Be Doing: Prone Plank Push-Pull

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There’s no debating the fact that planks (and all their infinite variations) have a place at the “big boy” table in terms of exercises which 1. offer a horde of benefits, and 2. are wildly popular in the fitness community.

Personally I have a love/hate relationship with them.

I love them because, well, it’s hard not to appreciate/respect the long-standing work of guys like Dr. Stuart McGill, Dr. Craig, Liebenson, and a slew of others who are way smarter than me who have routinely shown that building and improving upon spinal endurance is a key factor in addressing low-back pain.

Having the ability to buttress shear loads and maintain a “neutral” spine both from an anterior/posterior perspective (prone planks) as well as laterally (side planks) goes a long ways in demonstrating one’s ability to control the lumbo-pelvic-hip area.

While I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me, Dr. McGill has noted that one should be able to hold a perfect prone plank position for roughly 90-120s, and a side plank for roughly 60s (on both sides).

If one is unable to do so, compensates in any way, or there is a major asymmetry between left and right sides on the side plank, it’s cause for a red flag and more than likely will result in a dolphin gets punched in the face.

In short, planks (or to be more precise:  the ability to perform them correctly) can be a valuable assessment tool.

Which brings me to why I also hate them.

Walk into any gym, anywhere, at any time, and you’ll undoubtedly see people planking away.  And, more often than not they look god awful.

There’s this….

And this….

And this, which is actually kinda cool….

Worse is that some people will brag – like it’s a badge of honor – that they can “plank” for five minutes.  Well la-de-freakin-do. Unless you’re training for some World Planking Championship, who cares????

And that’s not even the worse offense. I’ll give a free pass to the general fitness population because they don’t know any better.  But what really grinds my gears is when I see personal trainers having their clients perform planks for minutes on end, and it looks like the first two pictures from above.

What purpose does that serve?  And more to the point:  how is it you’re letting your client get away with such atrocious technique???????


Okay, deep breaths Tony.  Everything will be okay.

Just so we’re on the same page:  I am NOT saying that planks are a waste of time.  Like I said there’s definitely a ton of efficacy for their inclusion in a well-designed training program.  But I’m also in the camp that believes there’s a rate of diminishing returns after a certain point.

If you’re working with a banged up client with a history of low back pain that’s one thing; but if you’re working with a “healthy” client with no contraindications or symptoms then I’d rather make planks more challenging rather than go for longer periods of time.

Which brings us to today’s exercise you should be doing.

Prone Plank Push-Pull

Who Did I Steal It From:  fellow strength coach and Cortland State alum, Justin Kompf.

What Does It Do:  it definitely brings a new flavor into the mix on two fronts.

1.  By taking one arm off the floor, you’re taking away a base of support which inherently makes the exercise more challenging.

2.  It also adds a dynamic component where the trainee has to RESIST me  with the push component, and then pull AGAINST my resistance with the pulling part.

All this while still maintaining a “neutral” spine and not allowing the torso to compensate in any way.

Key Coaching Cues:  All the same rules apply, and this means making sure your technique is spot on.  Meaning, there should be absolutely no compensating in the lumbar region (dipping or hiking), no forward head posture, and the glutes should be firing along with a significant abdominal brace throughout the duration of the set.

Additionally, I like to yell out the cues during the set:  Push!, Pull!, Push!, Pull!, your sister’s hot!, Push!, Pull!, Push!, Pull!,  so on and so forth.

Shoot for 6-8 reps on one side, switch, and repeat the same process on the other.

And that’s about it.  Give it a try today and let me know what you think!

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