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How (and Why) to Do Copenhagen Planks

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We last saw the shelves of Copenhagen our roundup of the best bodyweight exercises that actually build strength. But it’s an underrated exercise and deserves its own spotlight. The Copenhagen shelf looks a bit like a side plank: YYou lean on your hand or elbow, other arm away from the ground and try to keep your body in a rigid position. But what makes the Copenhagen special is that you don’t rest with your feet or knees on the floor. No, you post a leg (your thigh) on a bench. This means using the inner thigh muscle on that thigh to prop yourself up. It’s a great leg exercise, and it has benefits beyond just adding variety to your routine.

What are the advantages of the Copenhagen shelf?

This exercise gets its name (and its mild popularity) from research from Denmark that showed it helps prevent groin twitching in athletes. Our inner thigh muscles, called the hip adductors, are responsible for pulling our legs together. Many of the muscles in this group are thin and can be prone to tears or strains (“pulls”), so the researchers used this exercise to strengthen the adductor muscles.

It worked: Pprograms including this “Adductor Exercise in Copenhagen” made the adductor muscles of male soccer players strongerand while it’s not a panacea for preventing groin injuries, it seems to help.

In addition to strengthening the adductor muscles, the Copenhagen plank also contains the elements of a normal side plank, meaning it has the side effect of strengthening a variety of core muscles, including your obliques. Even your abductors, the muscles on the outside of your hips, seem to get a bit of a boost from training this exercise.

(And yes, those two words are very similar. Abductors bring your leg away from your body, just like an alien abduction takes a person away from Earth. Adductors bring your legs in toward your midline; the two letter D’s in the middle may help you remember that they bring the legs together.)

How exactly do I do a Copenhagen plank?

How to Perform and Progress the Copenhagen Plank

The basic idea is to support your upper body on your forearm or hand, while your leg is supported on a bench or another object. In team practices, a partner can stand up and hold your leg while you’re doing the exercise.

Start with as much of your leg on the support as possible. In order of easiest to hardest, the progression goes:

  1. Knee or thigh on the bench
  2. Shin or foot on the bench
  3. Dipping the hips toward the ground and back up, repeatedly (This can be done in either position.)

While planks are often done for increasingly long periods of time, you don’t have to take that approach to get the benefits out of the Copenhagen plank. Try a 10-second hold, repeated three times with rest in between as needed. When that gets easy, try a harder variation.

What if I can’t do a Copenhagen plank?

If you can’t do any of the versions above, even the one with your knee on the bench, one way to modify is to keep your free leg on the ground. Lift your hips mostly with the top leg, but use some support from the bottom leg to help.

If you’re still not comfortable with that, you may need to do side planks (from the knees is fine) to build up your core strength, and look elsewhere for adductor exercises. This striped adductor exercise is a good place to start, and you can also do single-leg moves like step-ups to work the adductors in tandem with other leg muscles.

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