There are many good reasons to work on and develop your core muscles, and these benefits go far beyond the aesthetic bonus of getting flatter abs.
Developing and maintaining a strong and functional core will ensure that other areas of your body will work more harmoniously, allowing you to maintain good posture and conduct everyday movements of reaching and bending more easily and safely. It will also help prevent back pain and improve your continence.
Planking has become increasingly popular for core strengthening, and for good reason: it works. Slacklining is another fun and exciting alternative that is gaining popularity.
The plank is one of several fitness tests that can give you an indication of your potential health risks. If you cannot hold plank position for two minutes, you’re likely lacking in core strength, which is important for overall movement stability and strength.
Being unable to hold a plank for two minutes may also indicate that you’re carrying too much weight, and would benefit from shedding a few pounds.
Planking engages multiple muscle groups simultaneously, making it a very efficient and effective core-strengthening exercise. As discussed in a recent Huffington Post blog, you can also perform the plank in different directions: front, side, and reverse—each direction engaging different sets of muscles for all-around toning and strengthening.
The front-facing plank engages the following upper and lower body areas: abdominals, lower back, chest, shoulders, upper trapezius and neck, biceps, triceps, glutes, thighs, and calves. Side planking is particularly effective for training your obliques, which really helps stabilize your spine, while the reverse plank places the focus on your glutes, hamstrings, abs, and lower back.
Proper form is important, however, and overdoing it could lead to injury. Be particularly careful if you already have a bad back. You want to start off holding the plank position for several seconds, slowly working your way up to where you can hold it for about two minutes. As noted by Estelle Underwood in the featured article:
“If you feel any neck or low back pain while doing the exercise, this may be an indication of weakness in the upper or lower regions of the spine. If the core is too weak, the spine will sag, causing compression in the vertebrae, pressure on vertebral discs, and/or shoulder joint inflammation.”
Planking will help build your deep inner core muscles that lay the groundwork for that six-pack look. (Keep in mind, however, that in order to really get “six-pack” abs, you have to shed fat. Men need to get their body fat down to about six percent, and women around nine percent in order to achieve that classic six-pack.) Here are two key points for performing a front-facing plank correctly:
- While in plank position, pull in your bellybutton. Your bellybutton is attached to your transverse abdominis, that inner sheath that holds your gut inside and gives your spine and vertebrae a nice, weight belt-tightening type of support.
So by pulling it in, you begin to contract that deep inner transverse abdominis muscle. If you want to work your six-pack rectus abdominis muscle, drive your chin down toward your toes while you’re focused on squeezing your bellybutton in.
- Next, do a Kegel squeeze. More women than men might be familiar with this term. A Kegel squeeze is performed by drawing your lower pelvic muscles up and holding them up high and tight. For men who aren’t familiar with that term, it’s similar to trying to stop urinating in the middle of the flow. This squeeze will allow you to feel and focus on your abdominal muscles.
To perform a side plank, start by lying down on your right side, keeping your legs straight. Next, raise yourself up on your right forearm; your body should form a straight, diagonal line from head to toe. Your hips and knees should be off the floor. You can rest your left hand on the floor in front of you for support, on your hip, or behind your head. Brace your abs and hold for one minute.
For the reverse plank, start out by sitting on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Placing your palms on the floor, below your shoulders, squeeze your buttocks and thighs, and then push your body up into a reverse plank position.
Alternatively, you can begin placing your elbows rather than your hands on the floor, for a less dramatic lift. Again, keep your body in a straight diagonal line from shoulders to heels, making sure your hips are in line.
In the video above, fitness trainer Jill Rodrigues demonstrates a variety of front planking positions, including the basic, intermediate, and advanced basic plank.