The days of performing endless crunches are officially over.
Not only are these exercises ineffective, but they can cause damage to your spinal column. There is a safer and more effective exercise you can do to strengthen your core – the plank exercise.
The plank is an isometric exercise that helps build endurance in your entire core – rectus abdominus, obliques, lower back and stabilizing muscles. It is a powerful but simple exercise that you can do at home.
Let’s discuss how the plank exercise is done and why it’s so effective.
How to Perform the Plank Exercise:
Follow the directions below and use the image as a reference to learn how to do a proper plank exercise.
- Lie face down on a mat,
- Raise up onto your toes and rest on your elbows,
- Keep your back flat, keeping your body in a straight line from head to heels,
- Contract your abs to ensure your body doesn’t drop,
- Hold position for designated time.
One thing that will help you perform this exercise is if you pull your belly button towards your spine. This will help you engage the deep abdominal muscles that help support your back.
If you’ve never performed a plank, you might be wondering how balancing on your toes and elbows is supposed to work your core. Good question. As you balance, gravity will pull your midsection towards the ground and your lower back will have the tendency to sag. To prevent this, you need to contract your abdominal muscles to keep your body properly aligned.
You will notice your body starting to shake after holding the plank position for a few seconds. This indicates lack of strength and stabilization in your abdominal region.
As you continue practicing the plank exercise, you will notice drastic improvement in your core strength and coordination. You will be able to hold the position for much longer before starting to shake.
What are some Variations to the Plank Exercise?
If you’re having trouble initially holding the plank position, try the modified plank exercise. Everything is the same except that instead of balancing on your toes you will balance on your knees. This is a simple variation and is a great starting point if you lack abdominal strength. Remember that it’s not about where you start, but where you end up. Side Plank
This variation of the plank exercise targets your obliques. Keep your body aligned and stable while you balance on one forearm and the side of your lower foot. Keep your other hand straight in the air or rested on your hip. Repeat the same for other side.
Arm Lift and Leg Lift
This is a slightly more difficult variation of the regular plank. As you hold the plank, extend one arm out in front of you (so you’re balancing on your toes and one forearm) and hold this position for 3 seconds keeping your core tight. Bring your arm back slowly to its original position and repeat with the other arm.
You can perform the same variation with your legs. Extend one leg fully (so you are only balancing on your forearms and one toe) and hold this position for 3 seconds. Bring your leg back and repeat with the other leg.
You can combine these two variations to make the plank really difficult. Extend opposite arm and leg and hold for 3 seconds. For instance, extend left leg and right arm and hold while keeping your core tight. Repeat the exercise by extending right leg and left arm.
Certain pieces of exercise equipment makes stabilization more difficult. The idea is to perform the regular plank exercise but with your toes or forearms on a bosu ball or swiss ball. This is a more advanced variation so progress to these once you’ve mastered the regular planks and easier variations.
The plank exercise is by far the most effective core building exercise. Start including it in your workouts immediately and get rid of those spine-damaging crunches. Start slowly. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t hold the plank for long periods. Keep working and try different variations. You’ll build great abdominal strength with this exercise.
Is the plank exercise in your routine? Do you know of any unique plank variations? Share in the comments below!