When it comes to abdominal exercises, the Plank gets rockstar status. It is ranked one of the top 10 most effective ab excercises. The plank is an isometric exercise that primarily strengthens the abdominal muscles (rectus abdominus and transverse abdominus), but also recruits the core muscles as synergists and stabilizers.
There are different variations of the plank, starting with the low-plank, as shown on the left. Begin by holding the pose for 20 seconds at a time. Over time, as your muscles gain strength, increase the time held up to a minute or longer. Proper form and alignment is essential for the safety and effectiveness of this exercise. View the detailed step-by-step instructions by the American Council on Exercise for the proper execution of the Low-Plank.
If the low plank is difficult for you or causes any pain (especially in the back), then try the Modified Plank. This version takes the pressure off the lower back and allows for more support by using the knees. Progress to the low plank once you’ve mastered this modified pose and feel stronger in your back.
There are several progressions of the plank that can be followed, it really depends on your strength. The length of time you can hold a pose will be an indication of your increasing strength and when it’s appropriate to progress. The next progression from the low plank is the high plank. The high plank is done by using straight arms and requires a strong lower back and shoulders. This is a yoga inspired exercise that works not just the core, but the chest, shoulders, triceps, hamstrings, and glutes.
The Side Plank and Modified Side Plank are yet another version that target different abdominal and core muscles. This exercise targets the obliques and the deep ab muscles (transverse abdominus) along with the glutes and adductors. Once again, start with the modified version and work your way up. View the step-by-step instructions by the American Council on Exercise.