Crunches are easily the most common of the abdominal exercises but they are certainly not the most effective way to strengthen your core.
4. More Flexibility
When you do planks regularly, the muscles around your shoulders, shoulder blades, and collarbone will expand and stretch along with your hamstrings and even the arches of your feet and your toes.
When you do a side plank, you also stretch out your obliques (sides of your core) and if you really want to increase the stretch, you can do a rocking plank by swaying your body back and forth and moving your toes a few inches either way.
5. Better Coordination
When you play sports, run, cycle or swim, the strong core that you develop from practicing planks makes you more efficient overall. Your arms and legs get assistance from your stable midsection so they don't have to do all the work. This means that you can last longer and be more resistant to injury.
Again, because planking strengthens your core, not just your abdominals, it allows your body to perform as a unit, instead of a floppy meat-sack of individual parts. Doing plank variations, like one-armed or one-legged planks, can increase both your balance and coordination.
Because planking strengthens your core, not just your abdominals, it allows your body to perform as a unit, instead of a floppy meat-sack of individual parts.
6. Better Mood
As you learned in the article How Exercise Affects Your Brain, any and every exercise can boost your mood and planks are no different. But I find any exercise that changes your entire perspective and view of the world has an even more profound mood boost. Try crawling around on the floor without cracking a smile, I dare you.
7. Better Balance
Doing side planks or any plank variation with extensions of your limbs, or planks performed on a stability ball, are extremely effective for building balance. As I mentioned before, planks also work the muscles that you need to maintain proper posture (back, chest, shoulders, abs, and neck) and if you do them regularly, you will be able to balance like a champ.
How to Do a Basic Plank
I highly recommend that you watch a how-to video and look at some pictures on how to plank if you have never done one before. But for those of you who prefer learning from a description, here you go:
- Lay face down on the floor (a soft mat can make this more comfortable).
- Place your elbows directly under your shoulders and align your wrists with your elbows.
- Push your body up so you create a straight and flat line from your toes to your head.
- Keep your chin in close to your neck (think of holding a tennis ball under your chin).
- Engage your abs, like you are about to be punched in the stomach, and squeeze your gluteal (tailbone) and thigh muscles simultaneously.
- Breathe normally.
- Hold this plank position for a few seconds at first and increase the duration over time.
- Rest and repeat.
Pro Tip 1: Your belly button is attached to your transverse abdominis, which holds your gut inside you and gives your spine and vertebrae its support. If you pull your belly button in, you can contract the inner transverse abdominis muscle. If you want a six-pack rectus abdominis, this is a good way to start.
Pro Tip 2: Perform a kegel squeeze by drawing your lower pelvic muscles up and hold them tight. The kegel movement is similar to trying to stop urinating in the middle of going to the bathroom. Doing this while planking can really help you focus on the abdominals and get the most out of the plank.
Common Plank Mistakes
Proper form is important no matter what exercise you are doing and when performing planks it’s no different. Sure, it’s not like doing a heavy deadlift where a single wrong move can send you directly to the chiropractor, but it is still important to keep an eye on your form.
Neck or low back pain while planking can be an indication of weakness in the upper or lower parts of the spine. If the core is too weak, the spine will droop and that can cause the vertebrae to compress. If this happens, try holding the plank position for a few seconds only, and slowly build your way up.
Sagging, drooping, or getting out of alignment is something you want to make sure you don’t do. You can get a friend to watch you or even place a broomstick, yardstick or hockey stick on your back. If you are in alignment, the top of the stick should touch the head, the middle should rest between the shoulder blades, and the bottom of the stick should rest between your cheeks (no, your other cheeks).
Keep your back flat (and your bum tucked in) to really get the core working the way it should. You want to feel your abs engage from top to bottom in the plank position.
Keep your neck in a neutral position. It is also important to think of your head and neck as simply an extension of your back. Keep your eyes on the floor (not on your reflection in the mirror or on your yoga neighbor).
Keep your breathing, deep and slow. Denying yourself oxygen can make you dizzy and eventually nauseated. In through the nose and out through the mouth.
If your form starts to fall apart, it is time to quit or at least take a rest. When it comes to exercise, quality always trumps quantity in my book.