It’s the best core exercise on the planet, for my money – and it is my money
There is almost no better way in the world to strengthen the muscles in your core than by holding really still for a really, really long time. Of course, that doesn’t mean in any way that you should just sit really, really still on the couch and assume the result will be washboard abs. Not even close to the case. But…strengthening your core and abdominal muscles can be as easy as planking a couple of times a day for as long as possible.
Many, many exercisers want to strengthen their abs, flatten their tummies or get more shredded through the abdominals, and many think the way to best to that is to do many, man, many crunches. All those many, many crunches will do is give you a repetitive stress injury in your lower back or hip flexor as well as do nothing for your overall core strength.
Your obliques and your transverse abdominis are both important muscles in two ways. First, the transverse abdominis (TVA) wraps around your torso like a belt, and is important in supporting your lower back, which can be an extremely sensitive topic for many men into their later years. When you over strengthen one part of your body and train it to fold itself in two (which is a crunch or a sit up, or any spinal flexion) then you run the risk of an imbalance, and over time your body will send you a message about that imbalance – and the message will be pain.
Your obliques are also crucial in maintaining good posture. Those muscles get a great workout in the side plank, which we will also explore below. Those muscles control your ability to twist your torso in one direction or the other.
Those muscles get next to no engagement in the classic crunch movement and doing that same movement over and over will not only get you washboard abs, but you’ll probably get bored, stop exercising, and that’s good-bye washboard anything.
So, when you’re starting out, a great way to begin is to simply start out with a basic front plank. The body will be held up by four points of contact with the floor – the feet and the elbows, with the forearms also providing some stability on the floor. Holding the plank for 20 seconds at a time is a good start and my rule of thumb for new plankers to build time and endurance is to add 10 or 15 seconds to their plank routine every week, so that after six weeks or so you can build your endurance until you can take a run at doing 60 seconds, and keep on building. Who knows, maybe after that, you can take a run at the world record, which is upwards of nine hours, or something ridiculous like that.
Start by trying to reach 20 or 25 seconds in the classic front plank and start by doing 10 to 15 seconds on each side for the side plank – and yes, you have to do both sides every time.
Modifications, such as adding movements, different planes of stability and others can be added over time to give your planks a little bit more spice, but man, oh, man are those last ten seconds tough. And they should always be tough. If they’re not, you’re not planking long enough.
Got a question on how long is long enough? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org