Q: I keep hearing about “planks” as an exercise for waist and abs. What’s a plank?
A: Planks are a great muscle strengthening exercise. They’ve become popular because they need no special equipment and strengthen abdominal muscles – along with others – without the back strain that sit-ups can cause.
The basic plank starts in a position like the “up” position of a push-up, except rather than moving up and down, plank exercises strengthen muscles by holding a position. If you are just starting doing planks, try resting on your forearms and knees instead of hands and toes. There are a variety of plank exercises, each targeting a slightly different part of the “core.”
Place your shoulders directly above your elbows. It’s important to tighten abdominal muscles, holding your back in a straight line, neither raising your bottom in the air nor letting it sag. Initially aim to hold this position for 10 seconds, then relax, and repeat a few times. As your muscles strengthen, increase holding time and try a variety of other positions (such as side versions) to keep building muscle strength.
Planks help strengthen abdominal muscles along with a whole group of muscles that cover front, back and sides of your abdomen, lower back and pelvis. These muscles are important to help maintain good posture and balance that is especially vital to reduce falls in older adults. A strong core also provides stability to avoid lower back pain and injury while performing sports and daily physical activities.
Most people can do some form of planks that is both safe and effective, but people with any spine or back conditions should check with their doctor first.
Here’s a helpful visual guide from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.