Build Core with Ease – The Leaning Plank Series: The Swiss Army Knife of Exercise Part 2 of 3

August 28, 2018  by Dr. Suki Munsell

To help my dance teacher Anna return to greater mobility following a spinal fracture, I introduced her to the Leaning Plank exercises I had been developing. She’d been in pain and inactive for a few months. We were at her oceanside home at Sea Ranch. From the kitchen counter we could watch the coastal cypress hold firm against the breaking waves and relentless wind.

Many of us regard Anna as a force of nature. I wondered if she’d be ready to exercise again. I began demonstrating against the marble counter and invited her to try carefully. Its always been a bit daunting to show my teacher my exercises, plus I was training her at age 96 while recovering. We needed to stay below her pain threshold. These exercises were a safe way to begin reconditioning.

Anna had originally suggested the leaning plank to me, as described in Part 1 of this series, and I hoped she would benefit. She needed to reawaken her core strength built over a lifetime of dance training and performance. I was amazed by her results that week. Several days later she was on the floor showing me the latest exercise series she had developed!

Leaning Planks not only stretch and strengthen your core, back, legs and shoulders but are do-able anytime/anywhere –  all you need is a railing, table or counter top. If you are new to the Leaning Plank series, take a moment to do the foundational exercises in Part 1 of the previous blog. Part 2 builds on them.


1. Stand with Awareness – Home Base

-Stand tall and relax your body and breathing.

-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 your body settles.

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

-As you open your eyes and gaze softly, stay connected to your inner sensations.

Repeat exercises 2-5 from Part 1
2. Activate your Core,   3. Stand with Core Awareness,
4. Plank with Chest Press,   5. Flat Back to Arch and Curl

-Feel how these exercises warm and stretch your core muscles and joints.

-Feel yourself becoming taller and stronger.


6. Spinal Twist to Right and Left sides:

-Stand an arm’s length away from the railing and return to the flat back position with arms extended and hands on the railing top.

-Exhale as you rotate your neck and head to look under your right arm for a gentle spinal spiral. Inhale and exhale in this position.

-Return to center on an inhale.

-Repeat to the left. Exhale as you rotate your neck and head to look under your left arm. Inhale and exhale in this position.

-Return to center on an inhale.

-Repeat 2-4 times on each side gently twisting your spine to a comfortable range.

-Roll-up to Center (see Closing Stretch below) to transition to the next exercise.


7. Calf and Hip Stretches

-Stand tall 1-2’ from the railing, feet facing forward.

-Lean forward from your ankles to a plank position with your hands against the railing.

-Keep your shoulders down and relaxed (rather than sliding forward on your ribcage).

-Maintain the plank as you step in with your right foot. Press your back left heel down to stretch your back left calf muscle. (If you need more stretch, step further back with your left foot.) Relax in this position for 3 full breaths.

-Lift your sternum to arch your spine. (Your back left knee will bend slightly.) Feel a gentle stretch on the front of your left thigh muscle from knee to hip. Relax in this position for 3 full breaths.

-Step back with your right foot to return to plank position, feet side by side.

-Repeat the calf stretch on the other side.

-Repeat the hip stretch on the other side.

-Step back with your left foot and return to plank position. Your feet are side by side.


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

-Push away from the railing, bend at your knees, center your body and roll up to a tall and lifted position.

-Close your eyes and notice what you feel.

-Notice increased serenity in your growing strength, increased silence in centering, and a stronger presence from taller posture.

Over the next several weeks, build core strength and improve your balance using this series. Prepare your body for Part 3. (Watch our shorter series on YouTube). Use your breathing to discover your limits each day and respect them. The feeling is the healing. No force, no rush. Your body will love you back.