There's a good reason trainers cite planks as one of the best exercises. The posture is simple, yet functional and practical. You can do it just about anywhere and variety abounds.
Perform it on your forearms, your palms, on your side or using an unstable surface, such as a stability ball. The plank is simply one of the best exercises for core conditioning as it improves posture, supports a healthy back, enhances overall movement and coordination and, of course, tones your midsection.
1. Planks Strengthen Your Core Safely
Planks alone won't give you a six pack, but when paired with a quality diet and total-body cardio and strength exercises, planks do help you develop definition in your middle.
They train the inner core muscles, including the transversus abdominis, which lays the foundation for creating a stronger, more defined rectus abdominis — the front sheath of abs that you see in the mirror. For people with disc issues or existing back pain, planks are safer than crunches because they don't require flexion of the spine.
2. You'll Notice Better Posture
Planks create a functional midsection because they work your entire core, which encompasses the whole trunk from the pelvic girdle to the shoulder girdle. When these muscles, which include the erector spinae, rhomboids and trapezius, are strong, you'll naturally stand up straighter.
Good posture means you're keeping your bones in proper alignment, facilitating breathing and nervous system function. It also promotes proper positioning and, therefore, operation of your internal organs — including those used for digestion.
Additionally, good posture lengthens you out so you look thinner and taller, even without dropping an ounce on the scale. Standing up tall also makes you appear more confident and allows you to show off all that work you do in the gym.
3. They Help Reduce Back Pain
Better posture helps you reap another of the plank's benefits: improved back health. From a practical point of view, good posture helps keep the vertebrae and ligaments of the spine healthy and aligned.
Planks train the muscles of your abdomen to activate so they support your posture and share in the burden of holding you upright; your back muscles no longer have to do all the work. This also deters the development of degenerative osteoarthritis and the associated immobility that occurs with time.
When your abs are stronger and you sit up tall with your vertebrae stacked, as your body is designed, you're also less likely to develop pain in your neck and shoulders caused from slouching in abnormal positions.
4. Better Movement and Coordination
The plank position, and all its variations, train the body to use the abdominals for stabilization — which is what they're designed to do.
When you run, hike, cycle or swim, the strong abs you've developed from planks mean that you're more efficient overall. Your legs and arms don't have to do all the work, so you can last longer and resist injury from overuse of one muscle group.
Because the plank strengthens all of your core, not just your abdominals, it teaches your body to act as a unit, not as an assemblage of individual parts. Planks train your body's muscles to work together, while plank variations, such as one-armed or one-legged versions, hone balance.
How to Do a Plank Properly
To do a high plank, rise to the top of a push-up position and hold for 30 seconds or longer. During a forearm plank, rest your weight on your toes and forearms.
In either version, keep your chest and abdominal muscles strong, your thighs activated and avoid sagging or hiking at the hips. Your body should be in a straight line from toes to head.