The plank might be the lesser-known sibling to the crunch, but if you've tried each exercise, you know not to take the plank lightly. Although you can perform planks during gym visits, you can also add this exercise to your home workout because it requires no equipment. You'll soon learn that it might lack equipment, but it doesn't lack any ability to make your muscles burn in seconds.
To perform a plank, lie flat on your front on the floor as though you're preparing to perform a set of pushups. Instead, bend your arms and position your elbows so they're directly below your shoulders. Your hands should meet on the floor below your face. Engage your core muscles and lift your body off the ground so it's resting on your elbows, forearms and toes. Keep your body in alignment from your heels to your head, and hold the position for one minute before lowering yourself back to the floor.
The target muscle of the plank exercise, according to ExRx.net, is your rectus abdominis, more commonly known as your abs. This exercise also builds your transverse abdominis muscle, commonly called your inner abs due to its location deep within your torso. Several other muscle groups help you achieve the pose, including your obliques, hip flexors, pecs and quads. Despite the differences between planks and crunches, your abs are the target muscle of both exercises.
If you find planks excessively difficult, make them slightly easier by performing them off your knees, rather than your toes. Once you're comfortable with planks, you can boost the challenge by having a partner press down on your buttocks. A simple method of increasing the difficulty of the exercise is to hold the pose longer. If you start at 30 seconds per plank, try increasing the exercise to one minute, and eventually even two minutes. Other variations include the side plank, which targets your obliques, and performing the front plank while holding one leg in the air. The one-legged post is a challenging variation best suited for those who are experienced with planks.
Technically, you don't need any equipment for the plank exercise. To make the exercise run a little smoother, however, wear slip-resistant running shoes if you find that your sock feet can't hold their position throughout the exercise. If you have access to a yoga or exercise mat, use it to provide padding for your elbows. Having a towel to wipe away the sweat on your forehead is handy and having a clock or timer within sight helps you track the length of each plank. If you have access to a stability ball, you can perform a plank variation by resting your feet on the ball and supporting your upper body with your arms outstretched and perpendicular to your torso, or with your toes on the floor and your hands balancing on the stability ball.
- ExRx.net: Front Plank
- ExRx.net: Rectus Abdominis
- ExRx.net: Crunch
- MayoClinic.com: Slide Show: Exercises to Improve Your Core Strength
- Lean it Up: Plank Your Way to Better Abs With These 5 Variations
- ExRx.net: Side Plank
- ExRx.net: Plank Twist (on Stability Ball)
- Shape: Trainers Reveal: The Best Abs Exercises of All Time
Toronto-based journalist William McCoy has been writing since 1997, specializing in topics such as sports, nutrition and health. He serves as the Studio's sports and recreation section expert. McCoy is a journalism graduate of Ryerson University.