Love them or hate them, planks may be one of the most efficient and time-saving exercises in that they work several muscles at the same time. The main target of the standard front plank is the rectus abdominis -- or six-pack muscle -- but since so many muscles are required to hold your body aligned in a plank position, they also work your opposing back muscles, your obliques and your hip flexors, to name just a few. A reverse plank -- if you can do it -- not only increases the challenge but changes the focus. Adding leg lifts does even more.
Reverse Plank Execution
The reverse plank is just what it sounds like. That is, you do it face up instead of face down. Your arms are extended behind you with your wrists directly under your shoulders, and your heels rest on the ground with your toes slightly pointed. Just like the forward plank, the idea is to lift your midsection off the floor and to keep your entire body aligned, like a plank or a board, without allowing yourself to sink in the middle. If the extended arm position is too difficult, you can try resting on your forearms with your elbows under your shoulders.
As the name implies, the reverse plank works the opposite of the standard plank. Instead of the back muscles being the stabilizers, they become the targeted muscles, particularly the erector spinae that run on either side of your spine, and your abs do the stabilizing work. While you can incorporate your glutes to a greater or lesser degree into standard planks, they play a bigger role in keeping your body straight while doing a reverse plank. In addition, the quads, at the fronts of your thighs, help keep your legs straight in the face-down plank, while the opposing hamstrings work harder in the reverse position.
Adding Leg Lifts
Adding a straight leg lift to your reverse plank provides two major benefits. First, maintaining the plank form becomes even more of a challenge and, consequently, requires more muscle strength. The straight leg lift, even in a lying position, works your hip flexors and your quads. Doing leg lifts from a reverse plank works the muscles more. To get the most out of it, you need to maintain proper form, not allowing your midsection to sag. The movement also needs to be slow and controlled. While you may be tempted to thrust your leg up or let it drop, allowing momentum to take over just leads to wasted energy.
The reverse plank with a leg lift may look easy -- until you try it. One reason it's so hard is that it requires strength in the oft-neglected back muscles and hip flexors. Unlike their opposing muscles, the abs, glutes and hamstrings, you probably don't care if these muscles "look pretty." That doesn't make them any less important for good posture and healthy joints. To build toward reverse planks with leg lifts, start by doing back extensions on a machine, then the floor, then on a stability ball and finally on a Roman chair. Build your hip flexors with standing bent leg lifts, then straight standing leg lifts and then try adding ankle weights.
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