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It may not look like much, but the plank can’t be beat for building strong abs from the inside out. Discover why a minute spent planking is never wasted!
If you’ve listened to the chatter among fitness professionals over the past few years, you probably heard that crunches shouldn’t make up the bulk of your ab work. This no doubt seemed like blasphemy at first, because most of us have been doing crunches since junior high gym class. So why the change of heart?
Think about it: The chances are good that the majority of your day isn’t spent lifting in the gym. You probably spend most of your time sitting. You sit at a desk. You sit in your car. You sit hunched at your computer or playing Xbox when you’re home. Why would you want to further reinforce that hunched position by constantly crunching in the gym?
wouldn’t say that you can’t or shouldn’t throw crunches into the mix every now and then. But only doing crunches for your abs is like only bench pressing, with no back or shoulder work. You’ll lose out on some fundamental strength gains, leading to an imbalanced and underdeveloped physique.
So how are you supposed to work your abs without crunches? One of the more popular methods is the old-fashioned plank. Planks are boring, you say? My first response to that is: Are you doing them correctly? The answer, upon official review, is generally no.
However, if you’ve gotten to the point where you can snooze through a two-minute good form plank, then maybe it’s time to spice it up. Luckily, there is a multitude of plank variations that raise the difficulty level. But first let’s discuss what a proper plank should look like.
Mastering the Plank ///
It’s essential to master the basic front plank before moving on to more advanced variations, because it teaches the foundational cues that make all planking movements effective. And when done consistently and correctly, it will—not can, will—confer strength benefits that improve your big lifts and general athleticism. On the other hand, poor form planking can just end up just aggravating low back problems and not working your abs at all. It’s your choice!
Start off by getting into a plank position: propped on your forearms, elbows in line with your shoulders, and your toes planted firmly. Are you set up? Probably not if you’re reading this, which is fine, because we’re just getting started!
The most important element of a good plank is a neutral spine. The most common problem I see in planks is a sinking low back, but the second-most common problem is an arched back with the hips in the air. This is the type of “plank” usually favored by people who say a plank is “too easy.”
Here’s a cue to help you find the right depth. When performing an effective plank you should be able to place a broomstick down your back and the only contact points should be the head, upper back and hips. Well, someone else will probably have to place it there, but you get the idea.
Another element of a good plank is proper shoulder position. Be careful not to shrug the shoulders toward your ears. The final element is head position. Do your best to keep your head neutral, like it is when you stand straight and stare forward. Resist the urge to crane your neck up or let your head droop down. Try staring at your fists to keep good head position.
If you do it right, your body should form a straight line from your head to your ankles. Every one of the cues I mentioned makes it more difficult to do that—which is the point. Allow me to repeat it one more time: Planks are not supposed to be easy.