Trainer, author, and fitness model Kirk Charles, NASM-CPT CES, knows that as you get older, life can get more complicated. But that shouldn’t prevent you from being on top of your game. He’ll help to answer the tough training questions that come with age so you too can be Fit Beyond 40.
Planks are one of the great core building exercises. They’re great for the older man to include in his routine, especially since they help to reinforce the foundation of many other exercises.
But the basic exercise does get mundane after a while—especially since we know that holding for more than 60 seconds has no real payoff other than giving you sore shoulders. Once you have perfected the classic plank, with maintaining full-body tension as your main focus, it may be time to step up your game to something more challenging to further strengthen your core. This is especially true for older men, who need to be more intentional about core stability in a strength training program.
A variation that is great to have in your workout arsenal is the plank shoulder tap. The movement looks simple when you see someone do it, but it’s sneaky tough to actually execute properly. The shoulder tap is the type of exercise that enhances your stability when engaging in movements that challenge your balance. If you play any contact sports where you’re being shoved around and you’re fighting to stay upright, like basketball or hockey, this is constantly tested.
To set up, start in a pushup or high plank position with your shoulders stacked directly above your hands. Your feet should be approximately shoulder width apart. Squeeze your glutes and your abs as tight as possible to create total-body tension. From this firm position bring your right hand up and tap your left shoulder, then place it back to its original position. Next bring your left hand up and tap your right shoulder, then place it back to its original position. That’s one rep.
As you’ll notice, the movement is pretty simple, but the execution brings your entire body into the equation. The moment you lift one hand off the ground to tap your opposite shoulder, you’ll have to fight to keep your back level. The key to get the true benefit of the plank shoulder tap is by not allowing your body to twist or slide from side to side to maintain your balance. That’s what makes this exercise much tougher than it looks.
Many older men I’ve seen in the gym find it extremely difficult to stay level while tapping each shoulder, so they rush the taps to avoid failure. The plank shoulder tap is not a speed contest. When I see people rushing through the exercise, they are usually doing it incorrectly, with excessive body movement. It’s imperative to keep your shoulders and hips square. Keeping the taps at a slow to moderate pace gives you more time under tension and enhances your control.
My recommendation on plank shoulder taps is to start with low reps at a slow pace. There will be some slight body movement, as no one stays perfectly still, so don’t get discouraged. Start with 4 sets of 5 reps each. Regardless of the amount of reps or speed, keep in mind that balance and control are the primary focuses of the exercise.
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