While crunches are one of the most common core exercises, they may not be the most effective.
So, what should you do instead? Try planks!
Planks are one of the most effective total body exercises you can do because they require a minimal amount of time (only 2-3 minutes a day) over which you can achieve substantial results. When done properly, they strengthen your core, quads, glutes, hamstrings, shoulders, triceps, spine, rhomboids and trapezius. Basically, they build muscle from head to toe!
Even throughout the first trimester of my pregnancy, I (Kalie) loved incorporating plank variations into my daily routine.
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Why planks rock…
One exercise, multiple benefits.
Planks work WONDERS on your core, not to mention improving your balance, posture and flexibility. They’re one of those exercises that builds muscle and strengthens your abs, back, chest, shoulders and neck.
They can be done virtually anywhere.
Heck, you don’t even need a yoga mat!
You’ll never get bored.
There are soooo many variations, which means you’ll never tire of these body-toning beasts.
How to effectively do a plank
Proper planks can decrease your risk of back injuries that are correlated with many other core exercises.
- Get into push-up position. If your wrists bother you, hold onto two free weights (pictured below) or rest on your forearms. (The wider your feet are spread apart, the more stability you’ll have.)
- Your head and neck should be in a neutral position. Instead of looking straight ahead, keep your eyes looking down at the floor or mat so your head and neck are in alignment with the rest of your body.
- Contract your core and, last butt not least, (pun intended), clench your glutes.
- Keep your head, shoulders, back and legs in a straight line. (Your belly shouldn’t dip toward the floor and your buttocks should not be lifted toward the ceiling. Basically, your back should be so flat that you could balance a glass of water on it.)
- Hold that position as long as you can.
- Remember to breathe and squeeze! Inhale and exhale slowly and steadily while engaging your glutes and lower abs.
- When your form begins to suffer and your back begins to slump, it’s time to stop. Quality trumps quantity. Your endurance will increase over time.
How long should you hold a plank?
With advice ranging from 20 seconds to 2+ minutes, knowing how long you should hold your planks can be confusing. The truth, it all boils down to your fitness level and form.
Generally it’s better to perform a plank for a longer duration with less sets, then to perform the plank for a shorter amount of time for more sets.
That being said, if you’re new to planking, start with 10 to 20 seconds and evaluate your form. If you’re able to hold plank position for that duration without your lower back and/or hips starting to sag toward the floor, your shoulders coming together or your butt sticking up in the air, then increase the duration.
Plank pose contraindications
- Have wrist, elbow, or shoulder injuries
- Are in your second or third trimester of pregnancy (If you’re in your first trimester of pregnancy, talk to your doctor or physical therapist to see if this is an appropriate exercise.)
- Suffer with diastasis recti (abdominal separation/ tearing; you’ll likely notice abdominal coning)
- Suffer from a weak pelvic floor (you may pee a little when coughing or sneezing)
- Don’t feel confident activating your abdominal muscles from the belly button down (start with deeper core work before incorporating planks, such as the exercises listed below)
Here are a few of our favorite plank variations for you to try:
- Thread the Needle Side Plank
- Hide Plank with Hip Dip
- Plank Jacks
- Up Down Planks
- Plank with Pelvic Pulses
- Plank with Knee Taps
Each of these moves can easily be modified. Rest on your forearms or put your knees on the ground; this will put less stress on your lower back.
Try incorporating different variations into your daily routine
You’ll effectively build strength and stamina in your midsection and create those killer abs you’ve been longing for.
Start out small, with 10-20 seconds of a traditional plank and challenge yourself to add on a little each day. You can achieve significant results in a relatively short time span! For more exercises and plank variations, check out our exercise library.
Aim for a few seconds (or minutes) first thing in the morning
This may sound a little silly, but a great way to ease into things is to pop into a plank as soon as your feet hit the floor. Turn off your alarm and plank for 30 seconds to 2 minutes before you do anything else. You’ll already feel a sense of accomplishment, it’ll help to wake you up and it’ll leave you wanting more!
For an entire article on early morning exercising, check out 10 Tips to Wake Up and Workout (Even as a Busy Mom)