Core body strength is key for so many things; balance, posture and—a particularly popular one—building abs. The plank is probably the first move you think of when you want to do abdominal strengthening in the gym, because it forces you to draw on your core to maintain the posture.
Managing to stay still in a plank position for an extended period of time (with your butt down, before you start trying to cheat) is a feat alone; but you don't always need to remain still to make the move effective. We asked a group of personal trainers and fitness experts what their recommended variation on the plank is if you want to get building those abs as effectively as possible. Here's what they suggested...
1. Point your toes and flatten your forearms
"Create internal load within the muscle by having your toes on point (not curled) and pressing down into the ground (around 20 percent pressure). Additionally, have your forearms flat and separate your hands. Again, 20 percent downward force in the arms. Lastly, contract the glutes. Focus on technique and not duration!"
- Marvin Burton, personal trainer at Anytime Fitness
"If you've mastered the plank, try challenging your stability with a TRX or Bosu ball. Use the TRX to lift your feet off the ground when [you] hold your plank. This position leaves you more unstable as you're elevated off the ground, which leaves your core fighting against gravity to stop you from swaying. A Bosu ball also has the same effect if you place your hands on the side, with the flat side up."
3. Get moving with the military plank
"The plank is brilliant as it can be modified in so many ways. I love adding a military plank [where you alternate from having your arms outstretched to support your body weight, to having your forearms flat on the floor while they support your body weight] into the mix as your core to work harder to stabilize and keep you still as you walk up and down onto your elbows and hands."
4. Tense as hard as you can
"Try the RKC plank variation (Russian kettlebell challenge plank). This plank demands you to generate as much tension as possible throughout your entire body, from the tips of your toes all the way to your fists.
- Step 1: From a regular plank position pull your shoulder back and down, tip your pelvis into a slight posterior tilt (this will flatten your lower back & allow you to fire-up your glutes better)
- Step 2: Tense your quads and glutes as hard as possible.
- Step 3: To create more tension imagine trying to pull your elbows & shoulders towards your toes and your toes toward your head.
- Step 4: Because this is a maximum tension drill you will fatigue quickly, aim for 5 rounds of 10 seconds of max tension. The quality of the tension and position is much more important than just trying to last as long as possible."
- Alastair Crew, Master Trainer at David Lloyd Clubs
5. Add in a jump
"My favorite variation has to be the plank jump ins, where you repeatedly jump your legs in and back out again while holding your arms in one place. They work your entire core and really get your heart rate up."
6. Use a weight
"I am a big fan of plate-weighted planks. This isn’t just because of the added resistance, but the plate gives you something to brace your lower back against, queuing a posterior pelvic tilt and helping you to engage your lower core. Give this a go by placing the plate on your lower back, just above your pelvis, and pushing your lower back as hard as you can against the plate, whilst squeezing your glutes. Grab a partner and get them to ensure that no light/gaps can be seen between the plate and your back."
- Harry Grosvenor, Head Coach at Virgin Active
7. Use a combination of variations
"There are many ways you can add variations to the plank to make it more challenging. You can take one limb off the floor—a hand or a leg—or even two limbs. You can do shoulder taps, toe taps, scorpions and reverse scorpions, knees in, mountain climbers, and more. There are a million different variations to advance the exercise. Pick a combination of a few that you find challenging and put them together into one workout."
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