Plank exercises have not gotten much attention in the past, but have spiked recently as a favorite midsection workout. Abdominal crunches and its variations were all the rage for getting a toned stomach, until lately, when physical fitness experts began to give more emphasis on a well-conditioned core. Perhaps the culprit to why abdominal exercises got much more attention was the obsession with a six pack. Nowadays, fitness experts give more emphasis on the functionality of the core, rather than glamorous six pack abs. The core refers to muscles in the mid section which include the abs, your hips and the back. Plank exercises are great for developing core tone and strength, and any routine would be incomplete without it.
Plank exercises for abs are definitely a great way to workout your tummy, but the thing about planks is how it also affects your hips and your back, or the entire middle section of the body. The best plank exercises will be outlined below along with a few plank exercise variations. Before anything else, let’s take a look at the basic plank.
The genius in this exercise is how it is ridiculously simple to do. All you need is some floor space, and you’re off to a great core workout. It is also sometimes called the elbow plank. Here’s how to do it from sportsmedicine.about.com.
• Begin in the plank position with your forearms and toes on the floor.
• Keep your torso straight and rigid and your body in a straight line from ears to toes with no sagging or bending.
• Your head is relaxed and you should be looking at the floor.
• Hold this position for 10 seconds to start.
• Over time work up to 30, 45 or 60 seconds.
The Side Plank
Now let’s look at a variation of the basic plank that will give emphases on your sides. Side plank exercises are a great way to target your obliques as well as your transverse abdominus or the deepest layer of abdominal muscle which when contracted gives you a smaller waist. Fitnessvancouver.ca explains this relatively simple, but challenging, static pose.
“Starting position: Lift your body of the ground and balance on one forearm and the side of your foot. Contract your abdominals and relax your shoulders. And breath.
Movement: No movement, just hold that position … keep holding.”
Advanced Plank Exercises
As with all exercises, surely those of you who have gotten accustomed to the basic plank will want a more challenging version of the routine. Here are some variations to make this static move more difficult.
1. Elevated Plank on Bench
You will need some elevation or a regular workout bench to do this version as described by naturalcures.com.
“This plank workout is for the more experienced exercise adepts. If you have been doing the regular plank for a while now, you should be a perfect candidate for the elevated plank on bench. Instead of resting your feet on the floor (as in the case of the regular plank), you will push yourself farther by raising them about 12-15 inches off the ground, atop a bench. Place your feet on the bench, rather than your shin or knees. This plank engages your muscle groups at a much higher resistance level than the previous two planks. Hold this position for 40 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds, and repeat again 19 more times for a total of 20 times.”
2. Elevated-Feet Side Plank on Bench
This is very similar to the basic side plank but it also incorporates a bench for added difficulty. The description of the pose is from menshealth.com.
“Lie on your left side with your legs straight. Place your feet on a bench, and prop your upper body on your left elbow and forearm. Raise your hips so your body forms a straight line from ankles to shoulders. Brace your core by contracting your abs. Hold this position for the recommended time. Then turn around so you’re lying on your right side and repeat.
Complete 5 sets on each side, holding for 10 seconds. Alternate back and forth until you’ve finished all the sets.”
3. Straight Leg lift Plank
This would be a very similar to the basic plank or elbow plank, with the main difference of lifting one leg off the ground as described below from wannabebig.com.
“The first progression to the elbow plank is to keep one leg straight and lift it one inch from the ground. Hold for 1-2 sec and switch legs.
Be sure to maintain optimal alignment while lifting leg.
Do not rotate your pelvis or allow your hips to sag.
You must be able to perform 2 sets of 20-second holds on each w/o rest in between before moving on to the next level.”
4. Elevated Plank on Swiss Ball
This version is reserved only for those with an advanced plank fitness level. It will involve placing your lower shins on a Swiss ball, and the balancing, stabilizing effort will surely tax your core. Here is a description from naturalcures.com.
“If you are looking to challenge yourself to the highest extent, you should try the elevated plank on Swiss ball. Make sure the Swiss ball has enough air in it, to allow as much support as possible. Failing to do so will make the ball very bouncy, and may cause you to lose balance and injure yourself (and we wouldn’t want that to happen). To get in position, place one foot on the ball, while supporting your upper body with your arms on the floor. Then place your elbows on the ground and quickly lift your other foot atop the ball. Hold this position for only 30 seconds. You will however find that those 30 seconds are some of the longest seconds you’ve ever experienced! Rest for 10 seconds, and repeat again 24 more times for a total of 25 times.”
Finally, here is a video showing not just a plank exercise but an advanced total body plank workout.
Try and see if you can keep up with this routine for a well-toned midsection. Remember, when it comes to a superior core, the plank is a difficult exercise to beat, so make sure you integrate planking into your exercise regimen.