While crunches are arguably the most common abdominal exercise, they may not be the most effective way to build muscle and strengthen your core.
Plus, core training is about more than having a beach-ready body. Effectively working out your core can improve stability, reduce injury, and maintain mobility. But if you’re continuously doing crunches and situps at the gym with the hopes of achieving a sexy six-pack, you may be exercising in vain.
So, what should you do instead? Try planks. A great alternative to crunches, planks can help improve core strength and stability. Here’s everything you need to know about planks to help keep your tummy tight and your core strong.
How to do them
The simple act of planking isn’t very hard to pull off, but holding the position is a completely different story.
- High plank. Get into the top or start of a pushup position. Keep your palms and toes firmly planted on the ground, your back straight, and your core tight. A saggy back or bottom during a plank can result in lower back pain later on, so be sure not to compromise your form. Do not let your head sag.
- Low plank. Lower down to your forearms, maintaining the same positioning and form as the high plank.
Planks activate more muscles
So, what exactly is it about planks that make them a more effective movement than crunches?
Well, one reason is that situps and crunches can be hard on your back. Pushing your spine against the floor can cause lower back pain later on. Additionally, planks don’t just work your core: They work your entire body.
Planks require your arms, your legs, and all of your abs, making them an all-encompassing workout and a more efficient way to exercise.
Planks can help improve your posture
If you’re experiencing back pain from sitting at an office desk all day, here’s some good news: Planks can help improve your posture!
By strengthening your back, chest, shoulders, neck, and abs, this exercise makes it easier to keep your shoulders back and your lower back in a neutral position while sitting or standing — two vital components of good posture.
Planks also help you develop isometric strength in your core muscles, which gives you the power to keep from hunching while standing or sitting for long periods of time.
Planks can help increase your flexibility
While it may not feel like it, planks are a great way to stretch out the lower half of your body.
Getting into the hold position lengthens your hamstrings as well as the arches of your feet, making the plank pose a dual strength and stretch exercise.
If you want to stretch your sides, side planks with an extended arm can target that individual area of your body.
Planks are easy to modify
While the classic plank is a great go-to exercise, planks can also be modified and added to in order to suit what your body needs.
Dropping to your forearms in the plank position is one modification you can do. Increasing the length of time you hold the pose is another way to maximize the exercise. Start with a 15- to 30-second hold, and increase your time from there.
Make two minutes your maximum time limit. If you’re looking to increase your athletic performance, research shows that repeated 10-second holds may be the best workout.
Make planks part of your exercise routine
Want to incorporate planks into your everyday regime? Try these different variations on the classic exercise.
If you want to target your side abdominals and strengthen your spine, try side planks.
A study published in Global Advances in Health and Medicine found that side planks could also help reduce spinal curvature in scoliosis patients. That means they can even help reduce the chances of spinal problems, or the need for corrective surgery in the future.
- Lie on your right side and prop yourself up onto your right forearm, which should be on the ground. Your elbow should be in line with your shoulder.
- Raise your hips up so that your body forms a straight line to the ground, and along with the floor, your body forms a triangle shape.
- The sides of your right foot will also be braced on the ground. You can try stacking your left foot on top of your right foot, or placing both feet on the ground.
If you want to increase your balance challenge, try lifting your free arm in the air. Remember to switch sides!
Arm and leg extensions
To boost your balance, try shoulder touches.
- From the classic plank pose, take your right hand off the ground and lightly tap your left elbow. Use your left arm and toes to balance.
- Return your right hand to the ground, and repeat the action on your opposite side.
- Do 10 taps on each side to start off, but increase your number as your balance improves.
The movement may be tricky to master at first, but it will engage your entire core while also improving your balance.
This simple twist on the classic plank pose looks easy to maneuver, but it will have you sore the next day!
- Drop to your forearms in the classic plank pose.
- Alternate touching your knees to the ground.
- Make sure you’re tapping the floor lightly, and keep your back straight. Don’t compromise your form!
By touching your knee to the floor, your hamstrings and quads get double the workout.
Now that you know how to plank, get ready for some killer abs! A stronger core will increase your athletic performance and everyday abilities.