Develop Incredible Core Strength With This Challenging Plank Variation
The plank is one of the most well-known core exercises around. It is also one of the most effective exercises that you can do to strengthen a vast array of muscles throughout the body.
The beauty of the plank is not only it’s simplicity but it’s versatility. A wide variety of plank variations can be performed to develop particular muscle groups or fitness components.
This article will look at a specific plank variation known as the RKC plank. It will provide detail on the exercise itself, the muscles it works, the associated benefits, and the technique.
What Is The RKC Plank?
The RKC plank (sometimes referred to as the Hardstyle plank) is a variation of the conventional plank that places an increased demand on the deep core and upper body muscles.
RKC stands for Russian Kettlebell Challenge, however, this refers to a Russian Strength School. There are no kettlebells involved in this exercise.
Pavel Tsatsouline, a former Soviet special forces physical training instructor, is accredited with inventing the RKC plank.
Tsatsouline is most well known for popularizing the kettlebell in modern-day training, hence the name “Russian Kettlebell Challenge”.
The purpose of the RKC plank is to generate whole-body tension to most effectively develop core strength and stability.
RKC Plank Muscles Worked
As with all plank exercises, the main purpose is to isometrically work the core muscles. However, there is a range of other muscles that are involved too.
Muscles worked in the RKC plank include:
- Rectus Abdominis
- Transverse Abdominis
- External and Internal Obliques
- Scapular Stabilizers
The core muscles must all contract to hold the body in alignment, prevent unnecessary movements, and provide the body with stability.
Keeping the glutes and quads engaged throughout will help to keep the hips in the correct position and enhance full-body stability.
Finally, the muscles of the upper body must also isometrically contract to add stability and also ensure that the upper back remains rigid.
RKC Plank Benefits
This section will highlight four incredible benefits associated with regularly performing the RKC plank.
1) Develops Full-Body Strength
As highlighted in the previous section, the RKC plank activates a vast array of muscles throughout the body. This makes it one of the best exercises for developing full-body strength.
While the biggest improvements in strength are likely to be seen with the core muscles, the lower and upper extremities will adapt and improve in strength.
Increasing full-body strength in this manner can positively influence athletic performance and injury risk, as detailed in the points following.
2) Improved Muscle Definition
When the muscles are exposed to a training stimulus, the individual fibers are actually damaged and small tears appear.
Providing recovery is optimal, these fibers will be repaired and increase in strength and size. Increasing the size of these fibers will cause the muscles to look much more defined.
Considering the demands that the RKC plank places on the body, you can specifically expect the abdominal muscles to improve in this regard.
3) Reduces Injury Risk
The core muscles play a crucial role in maintaining stability and control over movements. Therefore, increasing core strength through exercises like the RKC plank can enhance overall stability and control.
This is particularly important when it comes to injury prevention as enhancing these components can drastically reduce the risk of sustaining an injury.
Furthermore, performing regular resistance training and improving strength has been found to significantly reduce injury risk (1).
Finally, specifically training the core and increasing the strength of the trunk has been found to alleviate back pain (2).
4) Facilitates Lifting Performance
Developing core strength is important for those who participate in sport – specifically any lifting sport like weightlifting or powerlifting.
Because the RKC plank improves full-body strength, spinal rigidity, and the ability to maintain a neutral spine, it can be used to enhance lifting performance.
Conventional vs RKC Plank
If you were to compare the conventional plank and the RKC plank, you may not notice any difference at first glance. However, by looking more closely you will notice subtle changes.
The main difference between these two is the position of the pelvis and the arms.
With the conventional plank, the pelvis is placed in a neutral position, however, with the RKC plank, the pelvis should be slightly posteriorly tilted.
A more obvious difference between the two plank variations is the arm position.
While the forearms remain in a parallel position in the conventional plank, the RKC plank requires you to interlock your hands which turns the forearms inwards.
While these small alterations may seem insignificant, they are anything but.
A study investigating the differences between these two variations determined that the RKC was the better option for increasing muscle activation (4).
Furthermore, the results indicated that RKC plank activates the rectus abdominis and oblique muscles twice as much in comparison to the conventional plank.
RKC Plank Technique
To get the most out of this exercise, it is imperative that you set up and execute the RKC plank correctly. Work through the following four steps to perform the perfect RKC plank:
- Squeeze the core muscles and assume a front plank position
- Ensure that the legs fully extended out with feet slightly narrower than hip-width
- Place the forearms flat on the floor ensuring that the elbows are directly under the shoulders
- Clasp your hands together so that the forearms move away from parallel
- Pull your shoulders back and down and look to isometrically pull your elbows towards each other
- In a similar way, isometrically pull the knees towards each other and squeeze your quads to ensure that the legs are entirely straight
- While maintaining this tension, look to tilt the pelvis slightly by attempting to tuck your tailbone under your backside
- Finally, focus on isometrically pulling your hands and feet together as if you were trying to lift the hips to an inverted V position
- Hold this position while maintaining full-body tension as best as possible
RKC Plank Progressions
Make no mistake, the RKC plank is an extremely demanding exercise in itself. However, for those who are looking for an additional challenge, consider performing the following four RKC plank progressions.
1) Single Leg RKC Plank
As the name suggests, the first progression simply involves getting into position and then lifting one foot from the floor.
This immediately causes instability and consequently places more demand on the core muscle as they work to maintain alignment and stability.
Furthermore, it places additional demand on the lower extremities muscles as you must now support the body on one leg rather than two.
When performing this progression, ensure that you perform the same amount of work on both sides. Perform the first set on the right and follow it up with a second set on the left.
2) RKC Weighted Plank
Another effective RKC plank progression is to simply add weight to the exercise.
While some people opt to have a partner place a weight plate on the upper back, a safer and potentially more effective method is to wear a weight vest or a weighted backpack.
Avoid the temptation to add an excessive amount of weight as this may cause form to become compromised thus reducing the effectiveness of the exercise and increasing injury risk.
Instead, focus on starting with a light amount of weight and very gradually add more over time.
3) RKC Side Plank
In the same way that the traditional plank has been adapted to create the RKC plank, the side plank can also be adapted to become the RKC side plank.
For this, set up in a side plank and then look to apply the same principles as you would with the RKC plank.
While this variation will generally work the core muscles, it is particularly effective for developing the obliques.
As with the single leg variation, ensure that you perform the same volume on both the left and right sides.
4) RKC Body Saw
While the RKC plank is an isometric movement, it is possible to add a dynamic element to the exercise by performing the RKC body saw.
For this exercise, begin by setting up as you normally would for a RKC plank. Once in position, very simply rock backward and forwards by flexing and extending the ankles.
Adding this movement to the exercise increases the need for stability and consequently places a greater demand on the muscles of the core, legs, and shoulders.
While the conventional plank is one of the best exercises for core strength, the RKC plank has proved itself to be superior in terms of muscle activation and full-body strength development.
Not only does the RKC plank improve full-body strength, it may also enhance muscle definition, reduce the risk of injury, and facilitate a greater athletic performance.
*Images courtesy of Envato
1 – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24100287/ Lauersen, Jeppe Bo; Bertelsen, Ditte Marie; Andersen, Lars Bo (2014-06). “The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials”. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 48 (11): 871–877. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2013-092538. ISSN 1473-0480. PMID 24100287.
2 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4395677/ Chang, Wen-Dien; Lin, Hung-Yu; Lai, Ping-Tung (2015-3). “Core strength training for patients with chronic low back pain”. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. 27 (3): 619–622. doi:10.1589/jpts.27.619. ISSN 0915-5287. PMC 4395677. PMID 25931693.
3 – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18076231/ Hamlyn, Nicolle; Behm, David G.; Young, Warren B. (2007-11). “Trunk muscle activation during dynamic weight-training exercises and isometric instability activities”. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 21 (4): 1108–1112. doi:10.1519/R-20366.1. ISSN 1533-4287. PMID 18076231.
4 – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25325773/ Schoenfeld, Brad J.; Contreras, Bret; Tiryaki-Sonmez, Gul; Willardson, Jeffrey M.; Fontana, Fabio (2014-09). “An electromyographic comparison of a modified version of the plank with a long lever and posterior tilt versus the traditional plank exercise”. Sports Biomechanics. 13 (3): 296–306. doi:10.1080/14763141.2014.942355. ISSN 1476-3141. PMID 25325773.