The basic plank is a great exercise for building your core, which can help prevent back injuries and is great for overall stability and posture. It’s not the most exciting move in the world, but there are many variations that can add to the challenge and get other muscles involved in the work. One of these is X plank. Not familiar with it? It wasn’t until my editor set me the challenge of doing it every day for a week. Again, I couldn’t thank her enough.
A tricky move, because there are two movements that use the same name. The static version goes like this: Get into a plank position, but with your arms and legs spread apart, and hold. I tried this for comparison: I found that my lower body was working hard right away, as was the outside of my thighs. It’s something I think I’ll come back to. But I wanted to try the dynamic version, where you move from a plank into a downward-facing dog position and tap each leg or ankle with the opposite hand. For the first few days of the challenge, I was hoping to go for the first option.
This movement works the core, of course, and works hard, but it also improves your flexibility (or lets you know you don’t have much to talk about) and range of motion in your hips, throwing in a great calf stretch. It gives the shoulders something to do too, as you’ll balance one arm or the other during the movement, and stability is crucial for good form. There is a lot going on here. If you practice yoga, you will find this movement much easier than those – like me – who think the chair position is the same as sitting.
Another thing: If you do this movement while wearing a loose-fitting shirt or blouse, it will rise and fall on your face. This is not a good look.
How does an X board work?
Here’s how to perfectly install the X board:
- Start in a high plank position, forming a straight line from your feet to your head. Rest on the soles of your feet and the palms of your hands. Your arms should be straight with your elbows and hands directly under your shoulder. Use your core to ensure your body does not sag.
- From here, breathe in, lift your hips as you lift your right hand off the floor, and reach back to touch your left ankle without bending your knees. You may not be able to get that far to begin with. Focus on getting into the downward dog position rather than squeezing your ankle. It will come in due time.
- Exhale as you return to the starting position, then perform the movement with your left hand, touching your right ankle. That’s one rep.
- Do 5-10 reps for one set, aiming for three sets.
I did plank X for a week and this is what happened
I couldn’t reach my ankles
Unless you practice yoga, you will likely find this movement unnatural, and difficult to get started with. I sure did. On the first day, I could feel it everywhere: shoulders, arms, glutes, and abs. I also noticed a good stretching sensation in the back of my legs. But I was racing between the reps to maintain the illusion of decent shape. I managed three sets of eights, but I couldn’t touch my ankles—I could reach all the way down to my shins. I was sure this was because I wasn’t raising my hips high enough. When you focus on touching or reaching a specific point, it is easy to neglect the movement that allows you to do so. Instead, you try to extend your arm a little more, forgetting that the solution is higher, in the hips. By the end of the final set, I was out of breath, a sure sign I was forgetting to inhale and breathe out in a controlled manner as I moved through the phases of the exercise. The final lesson from day one is this: wear shoes or walk barefoot, or you may find yourself slowly and shamefully sliding across the floor.
It made me focus on my breath
For day two, I decided, as I always do, to focus on the whole movement—not just the perceived goal (touching my ankles), but how to get there as smoothly as possible (lifting my hips) and engaging my core throughout. This time I felt a stretch on my back, which I took as a good sign. If that wasn’t enough, I found I could reach right down my lower leg, almost to my ankle. From this position, your breathing will be somewhat restricted, so focus on slow, regular breaths to ensure that you can complete the sets comfortably.
It was more difficult than expected
The next day, I was able to add multiple reps to each set. I went for a run afterward and found that move was a surprisingly effective way to warm up my body. I was so relaxed and at ease.
On the fourth day, I was able to touch my ankle without stretching to the point of discomfort. This was a huge improvement on the first day and it was all down to patience and focus. You have to think when you’re doing this movement: It’s important to keep your back and legs straight, which isn’t as easy as it seems when you’re stretching to touch your ankles. I tended to forget to raise my hips as high as I could comfortably, though this made the second part of the movement much easier.
It helped me stretch and work my abs
In the last few days I added more reps, and ended up with three sets of 15. Not a huge progression in the reps, but by the last day I could touch the middle of my feet, a measure of improvement in how much it surprised me. I’ve come a long way in just seven days: I’ve been doing really well the whole time, I’ve been doing more reps, and I’ve improved my range of motion. This is a success.
If yoga is part of your fitness routine, you probably won’t get much of a move—you’ll already be doing a lot of stretching and core work—but if, like most people, you don’t stretch enough, this is a good way to work on your fitness goals. your heart and improve your flexibility at the same time. Just watch out for the baggy shirt.