A woman demonstrates the plank exercise.

Your self-care is a significant part of your health and wellness. Going forward, adding a plank challenge to your self-care will reward your posture, health and massage work.

Think about the consistent self-care you have in place—those things that have reached habit status, like getting bodywork and taking a daily walk, should carry over into your 2023 self-care. If it’s working, don’t change it.

In addition to your good habits, add the plank as a piece of self-care. Perform this one item of self-care to make your massage work easier, improve your posture and avoid back pain. That sounds like a big-bang-for-your-buck item, right?

[Participate in a plank challenge with The Fit MT. Beginning Jan. 1, visit thefitmt.com/plank-challenge-jan-2023 to participate in a free plank-challenge event hosted by Angela Lehman.]

What is the Plank?

The plank is a stationary exercise where you hold your body in a straight line while on your toes and elbows. It is harder than it looks and is the key to better massage work. More precisely, the strength the plank provides your core muscles is the key to a better massage. 

The plank takes strength in multiple muscle groups to do successfully. These muscle groups happen to be ones a massage therapist needs.

The plank uses core muscles that directly relate to low back strength and resilience when lifting the client’s limbs and reaching across the massage table for specific strokes.

The plank also uses the shoulder, pectoralis and serratus anterior muscles. The deltoid, pectoralis and serratus anterior stabilize the scapula and shoulder girdle while you are holding the plank position. Just like when delivering a massage stroke down a client’s back, the scapula needs to stay fixed, and the anterior deltoid and pectoralis muscles support the arm or arms that deliver the stroke.

While holding the plank, the neck remains neutral and reinforces a posture with a neutral head while performing massage work.

All these muscles will be stronger after you can hold the plank for 60 seconds. The strength in these muscles makes your movements around the massage table more fluid, gives you seamless transitions and improves your posture.

I hope you see the excellent benefits of the plank for massage therapists. Next, let’s look at how to do the plank.

The Plank Challenge

The traditional plank is done on the toes and forearms. Begin in a push-up position and lower your forearms so your palms face each other with a closed fist and your elbows are directly under your shoulders.

Your body should be in a straight line from the toes to the crown of the head. Watch that your hips aren’t sagging (which happens once you get tired) or elevated above the imaginary line.

Start with the goal of holding this plank position for 20 seconds. Increase the amount of time you hold until you are able to hold for one minute. 

If you can hold a one-minute plank for two to three repetitions, you are plenty strong enough to have great massage work.

Many Plank Variations

For an exercise that is so simple, there are lots of variations, which makes the exercise more fun.

We already talked about the basic forearm plank, which is the perfect place to start. While I like the basic plank, I advocate for massage therapists to do it on hands and toes (push-up position) instead, and here’s why.

Massage therapists’ hands and forearms need to be stretched and their wrists strengthened. Holding the plank while on your hands accomplishes both of these things. 

• Plank up/down

This plank starts on the hands and toes. The down phase begins by lowering one arm down to the forearm and then the other arm. Going back up to hands one arm at a time. Each time you are “up,” count one repetition.

• Plank jacks

Plank jacks are jumping jacks in the plank position. Your hands stay still while your feet jump together and apart like a jumping jack. This is a good cardiovascular exercise as well as strength.

• Plank shoulder touches

Plank in the push-up position and alternate touching one hand to the opposite shoulder at a time. Touch the left shoulder with the right hand and the right shoulder with the left hand for one repetition. 

• Side plank

This plank is done on elbow and side of feet. The difference from an original plank is your whole body is turned to the side, so you look out instead of at the ground.

• Hip-dip plank 

Begin in plank position, either on hands or forearms. To begin, lower and touch the right hip to the ground and back to starting position. Then lower the left hip to the ground and back to neutral. Repeat these hip dips in rhythm until you count 20 repetitions.

• Plank with toes on ball

You can use a bench if you don’t have a physioball handy. The ball makes this exercise harder because there is an element of balance, and your core works harder to hold you in place.

• Incline plank

Plank with your hands higher than your feet. You can place your hands on a table or bench. This will be easier, so use it to start out if you need to get stronger before doing the traditional plank.

• One-arm, one-leg plank

This plank is another good one for balance and making the core muscles work harder. You will begin in a push-up plank position and lift your right arm and left leg off the floor—alternate lifting the opposite arm and leg at the same time. You don’t need to hold the arm and leg out for more than a second before returning to all fours. You will feel the challenge as soon as the arm and leg leave the floor.

The Inverted Plank for Front of Body

I saved the inverted plank for last because it is a strength-building plank and a wonderfully needed stretch for massage therapists’ forearms. This is the only plank with the front of the body facing the sky.

This version of the plank is helpful for massage therapists’ shoulders, forearms and hands to open and stretch. It is done in an inverted push-up position.

Begin by holding the body in a straight line on heels with hands below the shoulders (instead of on toes and hands like a push-up). With fingertips pointing toward toes, lift the body off the floor into a straight line. Keeping a neutral neck and head, hold the inverted plank for 20 seconds until you are strong enough to hold longer.

“Where Should I Plank?”

Plank anywhere! The plank can be done anywhere you have a level surface and can get down to the floor. You can challenge yourself by planking at your office, home and gym. Try this exercise at your yoga studio, friend’s house, outdoors or indoors.

The plank needs no special equipment or clothing, so plank whenever the idea strikes you. Plank in between clients or while watching TV. Plank during commercials. Plank with your pets. Beware, dogs will lick your face. Try the plank at the park or beach.

Angela Lehman

About the Author

Angela Lehman is a massage therapist of 25 years turned online educator, promoting fitness and nutrition for massage therapists. She runs The Fit MT. With her kinesiology degree specialized in nutrition, she trains therapists in healthy eating, exercise and body mechanics to prolong their careers. Visit massagemag.com to read her The Fit MT column on topics including body mechanics, gut health, nutrition, exercise and more.