Plank exercises are popular with women because they are good for flattening stomachs and can be done anywhere without any special equipment. They are good for men, too, because they force you to tighten abdominal and core back muscles and hold the pose. The basic positions are front plank and side plank, but there are options for both poses to increase the workout intensity.
You do a front plank lying face down with your elbows under your shoulders. Lift your body with your core muscles until the back is straight and you rest on your elbows and toes. Hold the position for 30 seconds or as long as you can. An option is to straighten your arms so you are in a pushup position, but raise your body with your core muscles rather than your arms and hold the pose.
A basic variation on the front plank is to lift one leg while holding the pose and alternate legs. Another variation is to raise one arm while holding your body in the plank position. Yet another option is to raise one leg and the opposite arm -- right leg and left arm, for instance -- hold the plank with one arm and one leg, then switch sides.
The side plank is similar to the front plank except you lie on one side, rest on the elbow and side of your foot, then lift your body with your core muscles. Hold the pose, then switch to the other side. A simpler variation is to lift only your upper body, so you rest on an elbow and the side of a knee rather than a foot. A harder variation is to hold the side plank on an elbow and a foot and raise and lower the opposite arm so your body rotates.
Exercise Ball Plank
Another variation on a front plank is to rest your feet on an exercise ball rather than the floor. Then you lift your body parallel to the floor. You can increase this intensity by rolling the ball forward and backward while you hold the plank pose.
You should try to hold each pose for 30 seconds to one minute. Start slowly and build up as your strength increases. Repeat each pose three to five times and rest before moving to the next plank exercise. Warm up for about five minutes by stretching or jogging in place before starting your plank routine.
Bob Haring has been a news writer and editor for more than 50 years, mostly with the Associated Press and then as executive editor of the Tulsa, Okla. "World." Since retiring he has written freelance stories and a weekly computer security column. Haring holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri.