Abs seem for many one of the most challenging and difficult fitness goals to achieve but I’ve found one simple exercise done daily can get those finely chiseled results — the plank.
While “planking,” as it’s known, might not be the sexiest or most exciting exercise in the world, it’s one of the most effective exercises you can do to get those abs popping.
To understand why planks are so effective, it helps to know how the ab muscles work. Abs have two layers of muscularity, the first of which is called the rectus abdominus muscle. I call this the surface layer of your abs or the “vanity” layer where everyone can visually see your six pack. To enhance this layer, most people tend to focus on crunches which end up making the abs sticks out instead of flattening them.
Underneath the “vanity” layer of muscle lies the ever-important transverse abdominus muscle, responsible for holding the rectus abdominus in place, and as a result, strengthens the abs while flattening them at the same time. An added benefit of activating and strengthening the transverse abdominus is that it also allows you to lift heavier weight because you have the ability to use this muscle to stabilize the weight.
So just what exactly is a plank?
To do one, get in the push-up position on the floor. Bend your elbows to create a 90-degree angle so you can rest your body weight on your forearms. Your shoulders should be in line with your elbows. Your body should form a straight line from head to toe. Once your body is in the straight line, squeeze your abs tight and hold the position as long as you can.
1. Be especially sure to maintain the 90-degree angle; if you bring or hold your hands together, you’re likely letting your deltoids do most of the work.
- Keep your butt nice and tight throughout the plank. Squeezing the glut muscles keeps the lower abs engaged.
- Squeeze your belly to your spine without changing position. Be squeezing, you’ll engage your rectus abnominus muscle and work the “vanity” layer referred to earlier.
- Keep the same position throughout the plank. If you adjust feet, hands, arms or hips during the plank, you’re stopping beneficial part of the exercise.
- Do at least three planks daily and try to hold them a bit longer each day.
Once you master the basics, there are several ways you can mix them up, always a good philosophy with muscle work.
- Try doing them on an unstable surface like a bozu or swiss ball.
- Try them with with one arm or leg off the ground.
- Try side planks or twisting side planks to hit the oblique muscles.
Try doing them with music. I find I can hold mine much longer with a beat to follow.