While it’s common to do crunches as an abdominal exercise, planks are a great alternative. They can help improve core strength and stability.

Core training is about more than having a beach-ready body. Effectively working out your core can improve stability, reduce injury, and maintain mobility.

That said, crunches may not actually be the most effective way to build muscle and strengthen your core. 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. Here’s everything you need to know about planks to help keep your tummy tight and your core strong.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Want to incorporate planks into your everyday regime? Try these different variations on the classic exercise.

Side planks

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  1. 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
  2. Return your right hand to the ground, and repeat the
    action on your opposite side.
  3. 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.

Knee touches

This simple twist on the classic plank pose looks easy to maneuver, but it will have you sore the next day!

  1. Drop to your forearms in the classic plank pose.
  2. Alternate touching your knees to the ground.
  3. 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.