Build Core with Ease – the Leaning Plank Series: The Swiss Army Knife of Exercise Part 1 of 3

August 1, 2018  by Dr. Suki Munsell

“This one exercise does it all,” said Anna, my dance teacher, as she demonstrated a plank position against her studio wall.  “Stand tall, Suki.  Lean. Bring in your belly (toward your backbone) so you stay straight.  Hold. Can’t you feel your core strengthening?  Now try some push-ups.  Can you feel how your back strength connects to your core?”

I was skeptical that the Leaning Plank could be the Swiss Army knife of exercise until I began exploring its seemingly endless variations. I could stretch and strengthen my core, whole back, glutes, hamstrings, calves, thighs, even my shoulders.

Great results, too. As my core strengthened, my glutes and low back relaxed – those muscle groups had been overworking trying to hold me upright. Low back pain dissolved. My balance reorganized around my center axis – right to left, front to back, and top to bottom. Felt great.

The Leaning Plank is easier and more versatile than the floor plank. Your options are endless; the bedroom dresser in the morning, the kitchen counter while waiting for a pot to boil, or a park bench on the walking trail. My favorite is a railing. Try these exercises anytime, anywhere.

An added benefit: Leaning Plank exercises have a deeply centering result – returning you to home-base. Find serenity in strength, silence in centering, and presence in posture.

1. Stand with Awareness – Home Base

–  Feel your arms growing longer at your sides as your shoulders relax.

– Close your eyes. Notice on the inhale how your body expands and on the exhale how you release.

–  Imagine your center pole like an elegant column, relaxed yet strong.

–  Open your eyes gazing softly while staying connected to your inner sensations.


2. Activate your Core

–  Step to the railing and place your hands on the top.

–  Exhale and press down with your hands as you lift tall through your torso.

–  Notice your core tightening as you press down.

–  Keep your shoulders relaxed and elbows heavy to isolate core postural muscles.

–  Inhale fully then exhale through pursed lips, as if through a straw, to further engage your core muscles.

–  Release on an exhale as you settle into your legs.

–  Press and release several times using full exhale and inhale cycles.

–  Gradually build up to 10-20 repetitions.


3. Stand with Core Awareness

–  Come to stillness, close your eyes.

–  Notice how you feel in your posture and core.


4. Plank with Chest Press

–  Position your feet pointing forward about 1-2’ from the railing.

–  Place palms on the railing directly in front of your shoulders.

–  Stay lifted through your torso as you lean forward.

–  Maintain a strong, straight plank position for 3 exhale-inhale cycles.

–  Bend your elbows and lean in.

–  Extend your arms and press your body away from the railing.

–  Repeat gradually building up from 10-30 times.


5. Flat Back to Arch and Curl

–  Place your hands on the railing top, arms and shoulders extended but relaxed.

–  Step an arm’s length away from the railing as you fold at the hips into flat back.

–  Lengthen your torso by reaching your arms in one direction while extending your hips away.

–  Keep your head and neck extended in line with your spine.

–  Exhale fully into a slight spinal arch.

–  Inhale into a slight spinal curl.

–  Alternate between arching and curling for 3-5 breath cycles.

–  Return to flat back.


Closing Exercise – Stand with Awareness – Roll-up to Center

–  Bend your knees, release your arms, curl forward and balance your weight over your feet.

–  Roll your body up to a centered, tall, and lifted position.

–  Close your eyes and notice what you feel.

–  Do you notice serenity in strength, silence in centering, and a stronger presence with taller posture?


Over the next several weeks, build core strength and improve your balance using this series. You’ll learn more in Parts 2 and 3. (Watch our shorter series on DVD.). Use your breathing to discover your limits each day and respect them. No force, no rush. Your body will love you back.