What is the best exercise move for a strong core? Planks, of course! Your core muscles are important muscles that support your spine and give you a good posture. Having a strong core not only makes your other workouts more effective but it will lead you to a flatter, leaner tummy.
Compared to crunches and sit-ups, doing the plank will engage even the deepest core muscles without any movements. You just need to raise your arms to the start of a push-up position but on your elbows instead and keep your body straight and rigid (like a plank of wood) for a minute or longer. You can plank anywhere too since you won’t need any special equipment to perform one.
Plank it right to really work your abs, obliques, shoulders, back, chest, hips, and butt. Done incorrectly, there will be a lot of unwanted strain on your lower back and shoulders, which can outweigh the benefits of the plank. (Have lower back problems? Best to avoid the plank.)
5 Steps To The Perfect Plank
1. Start by kneeling down on the floor or yoga mat. Lean forward and place your elbows on the floor in front of you with your fists clinched and pointing forward or clasped together.
2. Keeping your feet together, raise your knees up off the floor balancing only on your toes and forearms.
3. Straighten your body but keep your neck and spine neutral (neither arched nor rounded). Keep your eyes on the floor in front of you, instead of looking up or letting your head hang downward. Imagine that you’re a plank of wood, and that you’re straight as an arrow.
4. Tighten your abdominals, squeeze your glutes, and never let your hips sag. Your body should be a single strong line from your head to your heels.
5. Hold the plank position for 30 – 60 seconds, or until your form starts to deteriorate. Rest and repeat.
You should feel more pressure on your abdominals and glutes, not on your lower back. If you feel your back muscles are getting tired, stop, rest, and then repeat. Over time as your core gets stronger, you will be able to hold the plank longer.
2 Plank Variations for Beginners
1. Incline Plank
Keep your toes on the floor and the same straight line through your body, but elevate your hands and elbows on a bench or chair. Many people find this position easier to maintain with proper form. Over time, gradually progress to lower objects until you can easily do a plank on the floor.
2. Knee Plank
If holding a basic plank is too difficult, try lowering your knees to the floor. Keep your back straight and core tight—imagine drawing your bellybutton to your spine (rather than sucking in your stomach). Practice holding it until you can work up to a full standard plank.
Want a bigger challenge? Try these 3 advanced planks variations
1. Side Plank
Starting in standard plank position, bring your legs together until your heels touch. Lean to your left while lifting your right arm up toward the ceiling until you are balanced on one arm. Hold and squeeze your entire core focusing on keeping your left side perfectly straight from shoulder to heel. Change to other side and repeat.
2. X Plank
Start in standard plank. Move your legs out laterally until your feet are planted wider than hip-width apart. If this feels tough enough, you can stay in this position. You can add some extra upper-body work by pushing up to the push-up position and walking your hands out wider than shoulder-width apart, until you’re in a full X position.
3. Bird Dog Plank
Begin in a plank position. Once you stable yourself, lift your right leg straight behind you then lift your left arm straight in front of you. Keep your body in a straight line from fingertip to toe. This move really works your core and your balance. Once you are ready, you can lift your left leg to feel more burn.
You Might Be Making These 9 Mistakes During Your Plank
1. Letting your hips drop
Droopy hips put pressure on your lower back and rob your core of a good workout. Keep your hips in line with your head and heels to maximize this move’s benefits.
2. Tilting your hips
Some people find that one side of their core is stronger than the other. Keep your hips square from the ground to work both sides evenly and keep unnecessary pressure off your lower back.
3. Dropping your head and neck
If you tilt your head forward, you’ll disrupt your spinal alignment. Keep your whole body like a plank of wood (head-to-toe) to alleviate tension in your upper back and shoulders, and make it easier to engage your core.
4. Lifting your neck and head up high
This puts unnecessary pressure on your neck and upper spine and makes it increasingly difficult to maintain proper form.
5. Rounding your shoulders
This strains your neck and shoulders. To alleviate the pressure, pull your shoulder blades down your back and open your chest.
6. Raising your hips too high
Sticking your butt up in the air is easier than keeping your body in a straight line, however this does not work your core effectively. Drop your hips and engage your core and glutes.
7. Forgetting about your abs
Planks work your entire core effectively, but only if you mindfully engage your abs. Tighten your stomach muscles to support your spine and think abs abs abs!
8. You forget about your butt
Most people don’t know that planks can actually work your glutes. Squeeze your glute muscles to help keep your hips up and stay in plank position longer.
9. Bending your knees
This may ease the pressure but it also reduces the overall effectiveness of the plank position. Straighten your legs and keep your spine super straight.