This is probably one of the most difficult “basic” skills we will learn. It’s more of an intermediate to advanced skill actually but I wanted to write about it in my series of ‘Master the Basics’ posts.
There are five definitive stages of a Planche …
- Frog hold – in a tucked position with your back rounded, your elbows are on the inside of your legs and can even rest there to some degree. Your arms are straight, however.
- Tuck hold – same positions as a frog hold but this time your arms are on the outside of your legs and your knees are pulled high to your chest
- Tuck planche – same as the tuck hold except your knees come off your chest and hips open up allowing your back to straighten into a planche position
- Straddle planche – hips open, back flat and body in a horizontal line, legs straddled
- Straight planche – same as straddle but with legs together
Now, a good target for each of the above would be the following:
- 60s hold
- 60s hold
- 60s hold (hips don’t have to be completely open but back should be pretty flat and knees not on chest)
- 8-12s hold
- 5-6s hold
Let’s say you’re currently on the tuck hold. The target is 60s. Your current max hold, with good form, is 40s.
You will take your max hold (40s) and divide it by 2 (20s). Then perform the necessary sets until total time under tension equals your target. So in this case you would do 3x20s hold which equals 60s.
Another example – your max hold is 12s. Divide it by 2 (6s). You would then perform 10 sets of 6s.
This is a generalised approach and is different for each individual depending on other training volume, genetics, age etc. but I find this approach works pretty well. Rest as needed between reps but I recommend between 1-2 minutes. If you max hold is less than 10s, you should move back down to an easier progression.
It’s not always this black and white and you will need to use your intuition. Unless of course I am programming for you but hopefully you get the idea.
Train for a 4-6 week cycle before re-testing.
If you plateau, try adding weight (weighted vest) and/or increasing the sets. Perhaps add 10/20%.
Clearly this isn’t enough training volume. You need to add in supplementary work. Planche press ups (deep lean and deep deficit, feet elevated), pressing to handstand drills, L-sit press to planche drills, straight arm pushing strength e.g. maltese strength , and so on ….
For accessory work I usually recommend starting at 3×3 CONTROLLED REPS. Increase sets until you reach 5×3. Then start at 3×5 for CONTROLLED REPS until you reach 5×5. Then, if you need do, add weight and/or tempo and/or pauses. This is a general rule and depends on the movement but if you can’t do 3×3 I would move back down to an easier progression so you can get in the right volume.
Planches, and most other static gymnastic holds, require a tremendous amount of tendon strength and tendons require lots of time under tension to get strong. Consistency is best. 15 mins a day is better than cramming all your sets into a 1 hour session once a week. The latter is also more likely to lead to pain and injuries. You need to give your body time to adapt to the volume.
Flexibility does help. The wider your straddle in the straddle planche, the easier it is.
Don’t forget to train your leg (particularly glute) strength as well. Opening up your hips that last degree so you’re completely horizontal in a planche requires more glute strength than you think. The first time you do it, you might even cramp up.
Work on your wrist conditioning. Planches put a lot of pressure on your wrists so make them strong!
I recommend learning a planche on parallettes first but the floor is equally fine and no easier / more difficult. If on the floor play around with wrist placement and find what works for you. Bigger guys with poor wrist mobility / long term wrist problems will likely be better with hands turned backwards so your fingers are facing you. Otherwise try fingers facing forward or outwards at a 45 degree angle.
Common reasons for failing:
- You’re not leaning far enough over your hands. Hands should be level(ish) with your hips. It’s all about balance.
- Trying to jump ahead. Master each of the five stages before moving to the next.
- Take off your shoes … lose that extra weight until you’ve nailed it!
- Core strength (including glutes) or upper body strength … know which one is letting you down and do something about it!
- You’re too busy moaning about how you’re not progressing, you’re too big to do a planche … bla bla bla … get over it. If you want it bad enough, you’ll get it.