Things that feel like forever: Waiting for the hottie you met last weekend to message you back; boiling pasta; holding a plank.
But even though it may not be super exciting, this simple bodyweight move is really effective—not to mention, one of the best ways to make your abs look fire. “The plank is a great exercise for strengthening your deep inner core: your transverse abdominis, multifidus, diaphragm, and pelvic floor,” explains Adam Rosante, certified personal trainer and author of The 30-Second Body.
And that’s important because those muscles support and control your spine and pelvis—the foundation of basically everything you do. But even if you plank for an hour (figuratively…don’t actually try that, please), it’s isn’t worth sh*t if your form is off.
HOW TO DO A PLANK
Start on the floor on your hands and knees. Lower your forearms to the floor with elbows positioned under your shoulders and your hands shoulder-width apart. If someone looked at you from the side, your arms would form a 90-degree angle. Step your feet back, one at a time. Maintain a straight line from heels through the top of your head, looking down at the floor, with gaze slightly in front of your face. Now, tighten your abs and hold.
AVOID THESE PLANK MISTAKES
The most common mistake people make when it comes to the plank is looking forward or even up, says Rosante. “That strains your neck and eventually kills your entire form,” he explains. “Look at the floor in front of you. Imagine holding a tennis ball between your chin and neck.” That will keep your spine neutral and help you avoid pain or injury.
Sagging hips are another frequent form error. “This is one of the first things to happen when your core fatigues,” says Rosante. “On top of making the move less effective, it strains your lower back.”
Once the hips go, your back will arch. “When your core fatigues, your knee-jerk reaction is to support it by taking some, or in most cases, most of the weight into your arms,” says Rosante. This position loads pressure into your shoulder joints and spine, which you don’t want, and takes the work off of your core.” And that just defeats the purpose of the whole move. Fail.
When this happens, squeeze your glutes and think about moving your hips back in line. “Moving your feet further apart will also give you a more stable foundation, making the move a bit easier. As you get stronger, you can start to close the gap.”
“It can be hard at first to have an awareness of your body in space,” he warns. “When you’re first starting out, it can be helpful to use a mirror to check your form.”
MAKE PLANKS PART OF YOUR WORKOUT
When you’ve got the form on lock, you can thinking about progressing the move. “Planks are held for time, not reps,” says Rosante. “Use a timer to see how long you can hold a plank before your form breaks. That’s your set time. Do three to four sets aiming to hold for that length of time, with perfect form.” After you’ve nailed that, you can either increase your sets or increase your set time in 15-second increments, says Rosante.
You don’t need to go crazy adding planks to every single workout to see results. “I suggest doing them two to three times per week,” he says. “Perform three to four sets held for time, per the instructions above, resting 60 seconds between sets.”
And for some new plank challenges, try some of the variations below.
LATERAL PLANK FOOT TAP
How to: Get into plank position. Lift your left foot and tap it out to the side, about 12 inches from your startionary foot. Return to starting position and repeat on the right side. That’s one rep.
LATERAL PLANK WALK
How to: Start in plank position. Simultaneously step your left foot and hand to your left. Then step your right foot and hand to the left so that you’re back in plank position. Repeat by stepping your right foot and hand to the right followed by your left hand and foot. That’s one rep.
PLANK TO PUSHUP
How to: Get in a pushup position, but bend your elbows and rest your weight on your forearms. Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles. Brace your core by contracting your abs. Press your body up into the top position of a pushup by extending your arms one at a time. Pause, then reverse the movement and return to your elbows. That’s one rep.
PLANK KNEE TAPS
How to: Get into plank position. Shift your weight back to the balls of your feet as you reach your right hand to touch your left knee. Return to the starting position and repeat, reaching your left hand to touch your right knee. That’s one rep.
How to: Assume a pushup position with your arms completely straight. Your body should form a straight line. Slowly raise your left knee to your right elbow, and then sweep it over to your right elbow. Hold, and return to the starting position. Repeat with the right leg. That’s one rep.
How to: Start in a plank position. Jump your feet out to the sides, making sure your upper body doesn’t rotate. Jump your feet to the starting position.
How to: Get into a plank position with a dumbbell on the outside of your left arm. Pick up the weight with your right arm and drag it to your right side while keeping your torso straight. Then, grab the weight with your left arm and drag it to your left side. That’s one rep.
How to: Assume a pushup position with your hands on the weights, arms extended, and feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Bend your right arm, and raise the dumbbell to chest level. Lower the weight to the floor, then repeat the move by rowing the left dumbbell. That’s one rep.
How to: Assume a pushup position with your arms completely straight. Lift your left hand off the floor and touch your right shoulder, keeping your hips stable. Place your left arm back down and touch your right hand to your left shoulder.
ROTATING T EXTENSION
How to: Start in a pushup position. Keeping your arms straight and your core engaged, shift your weight onto y our left arm, rotate your torso to the right, and rise your arm toward the ceiling so that your body forms a T. Hold for three seconds and return to the start. Repeat on the other side.