The pursuit of perfect abs often seems like a lifelong ordeal. So many things — pizza, pasta, and oh yes, pregnancy! — can thwart our dreams of a toned tummy. But aside from J-Lo-level #bodygoals, there are other reasons to focus on strengthening your core.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), creating a strong core can help prevent back injuries and improve stability.
And one of the best ways to get the job done? Planks.
Love ’em or hate ’em, planks are a supercharged way to tighten your core, slim your abs, and shape your waistline. Many experts now recommend planking over crunches or sit-ups, since planks put less strain on your spine and hip flexors.
Plus, a plank will tone your back, glutes, hamstrings, arms, and shoulders at the same time. That’s a lot of gain for just 60 seconds of pain.
The basic forearm plank is a great place to start, but you can multiply the many benefits of planks by trying one of these challenging variations. From the Spider-Man to the Swiss ball jackknife, these will bring you ever closer to an abs-solutely killer core. J-Lo, eat your heart out.
If you’re new to planks, the forearm plank is a great way to really feel the burn. This video outlines proper form and technique.
- Get down on your mat and place your forearms directly underneath your shoulders. Your hands should be extended and your body lengthened.
- Tuck your tailbone and ensure you engage your glutes, triceps, and abs to prevent your spine from arching toward the mat.
- Tuck your toes under and lift your knees, so that your body forms a straight line.
Try holding your plank for 20 to 30 seconds, building up to 1 minute or longer. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the longest forearm plank was held for 8 hours!
Pro tip: Let your gaze fall toward your mat, approximately one foot in front of you, so that your neck is in a neutral position. For more do’s and don’ts, you can also check out this video.
You already know how to do a traditional plank, but transitioning between forearm and full plank is a great way to progress your workout.
- Start in the forearm plank position.
- Move and straighten one arm at a time to lift yourself into the full plank. Try these slowly first to master the transition.
- Pick up the pace according to your comfort level.
Aim to repeat for 30 seconds for 1 set, performing 3 sets. Build until you can perform the plank for 1 minute or longer, as long as you can safely hold proper form.
Pro-tip: Minimize swaying your hips as you alternate positions.
This video from Howcast demonstrates several modifications to make the side plank easier or more difficult. For the most basic posture:
- Lie on one side. Ensure your elbow is directly underneath your shoulder, with your arm flat.
- Keeping your knees on the ground, stack your legs and raise your hips.
- Try placing your hand on your hip or raising it straight toward the ceiling.
- Squeeze your glutes as you hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
When comfortable with this pose, try lifting from stacked feet instead of knees. Then, you can increase difficulty and build greater stability with variations like arm reaches, or raising and lowering your hip.
Hold one arm and leg up like a starfish or add a knee pull to challenge yourself further. Be sure to even out your muscle tone by completing 10 reps of each movement on both your sides.
Pro tip: When you’ve mastered this pose, kick up the intensity for your upper body and core by adding a push-up before your side plank!
Walking sideways with your plank will strengthen your core as well as your upper and lower body muscle groups. These include the deltoids, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and even calves. Trainer Clinton Steenkamp advises you to:
- Start in a full plank position with your hands directly underneath your shoulders.
- Activate your glutes and abs to prevent injury and gain maximum benefit.
- Begin to shift laterally by simultaneously moving your right hand and foot to the right.
- Lift your left hand and foot to meet in the center and return to the plank position.
Complete 5 steps to the right and then 5 again to the left for one set. Beginners should aim for 3 sets, working up to 5. Alternatively, Steenkamp encourages you to time 1- or 2-minute rounds, working up to 5 rounds.
Pro tip: “This is not a speed exercise, so the more concentrated and slower the pace, the more your core and body will benefit,” Steenkamp tells us.
By building your strength, fitness expert Ani Esraelian asserts that you’ll gain greater body awareness and control. This full-body exercise targets several muscle groups, including the glutes, hamstrings, abs, obliques, triceps, and shoulders. You can do this on a mat or with a foam roller. Using the foam roller is more advanced. It challenges your triceps while helping alleviate wrist strain.
- Sit tall on the floor with legs extended long in front of you. Place your hands behind you, either on the floor or atop a foam roller.
- Engage your glutes, core, and arms to lift your hips, forming a straight line from heels to shoulders. Esraelian cautions against letting your hips sag or lift too high. Ensure that your shoulders are drawn down, away from your ears.
- You can stop here or continue to challenge yourself by adding a tricep dip: While holding your plank, bend your arms, pointing your elbows straight back.
- If you want an even greater challenge, add a leg raise: Hold your reverse plank, bending at the hip, and kick your right leg up…