Crunches are easily the most common of the abdominal exercises but they are certainly not the most effective way to strengthen your core.
Elbows or Hands?
If you really want to target your abs, then the elbow plank is a good option. That variation focuses more on your core muscles to do the work.
Planking with your arms straight and palms on the ground involves (not surprisingly) a bunch of arm muscles along with the core. If you're looking for a full-body exercise and you want to strengthen your upper body as well, this is a great option.
Getting up on your arms is likely to take some of your focus away from the transverse abdominis and if your main goal is to strengthen that transverse abdominis muscle (flatten those abs), a forearm plank is the way to go.
If you really want to go for the burn then I suggest that you combine the elbow plank and the full plank together (back and forth) by doing the up-down plank.
That being said, it is often easier for beginners to keep their shoulder blades down and back and to maintain proper form when they are on their elbows. It also has the added advantage of taking pressure off the wrists which is something that can help people who don’t quite have the upper body strength to pull it off. It’s also helpful for people who have tendonitis or inflammation in the wrists and forearms.
A forearm plank will help you target those abs more effectively, but a standard straight-arm plank is better for total-body conditioning.
In a nutshell: a forearm plank will help you target those abs more effectively, but a standard straight-arm plank is better for total-body conditioning. For best overall results, switch it up frequently and add in some dynamic plank movements, as well. I will give you my favorite plank workout at the end.
Should You Plank?
You really can't go wrong with doing planks two or three times a week (as long as you have good form). Hold the plank position for as long as you can maintain a straight line between your shoulders and ankles, keep your butt in line with your shoulders and hips, and make sure you aren’t collapsing your lower back. As soon as that starts to happen, take a break and come back to it later.
You can eventually add side planks, lateral movements, twists, or put your hands or feet on an unstable surface. There are too many variations for me to list here but a simple google search will reveal a veritable woodshed full of planks.
To finish off, here is my favorite plank series to keep me and the athletes that I coach strong, stable, flexible, balanced, and injury free.
Get-Fit Guy’s Powerful Planks
Hold the following plank poses for 15-30 seconds each on your elbows and then repeat the entire series again up on your hands:
- Regular Plank
- Plank with raised right arm
- Plank with raised left arm
- Plank with raised right leg
- Plank with raised left leg
- Plank with raised right arm and left leg
- Plank with raised left arm and right leg
- Side plank on the right
- Side plank on the left
- Side plank on the right with raised top arm and leg
- Side plank on the left with raised top arm and leg
For more core info, abdominal tips, and to join the planking conversation, head over to Facebook.com/GetFitGuy or twitter.com/getfitguy. Also don't forget to subscribe to the Get-Fit Guy podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play or via RSS.