Want sculpted abs? It may look easy, but no move will challenge your core more than the plank.
How to do it
Start in a push-up position with your hands flat on the ground, directly below your shoulders. Bend your elbows to 90° and lower yourself down, shifting your weight from your hands to your forearms. Make sure your body is in a straight line from head to toe, and lift your head up so you are looking directly forward. Squeeze your abs and glutes to keep your body straight and prevent your lower body from dipping.
The plank helps develop strength in the core, shoulders, arms and glutes, making it a fantastic exercise to prep your body for lifting heavy weights or playing sports. Even though you remain as still as possible throughout, you have to constantly squeeze your abs to hold the position, so your entire core will be put to work.
Upgrade your plank
Once you can hold your plank for two to three minutes without breaking a sweat, it’s time to step it up a notch before your gains start to level out. Give these variations a go:
First off, make sure your basic plank is up to scratch: Abs tight, glutes tensed, body perfectly straight … then make it harder! ‘Extend one arm out in front of you, and as you tense your body, drive the opposite elbow into the floor,’ says Joe Lightfoot, founder of Results Inc gym. ‘Feel your lats and abs engage fully as you continue alternating your arms.’
Sandbag plank drag
Start in a normal plank position with a sandbag slightly ahead of you on one side. Use one arm to drag it under your body, through to the other side. Switch your arms and then drag the sandbag back to the starting position. ‘You can also use a small stack of plates or a weight,’ says Joe. ‘Transfer them all to one side, then move them back.’
The walking plank adds instability and coordination to the mix. ‘Start in a normal plank position and move from being on your forearms to your hands,’ says trainer Adam Wakefield. ‘Moving one arm at a time, try to place your hand where your elbow was, then reverse the process.’ For extra triceps work, add in a push-up between reps.
This will strengthen your triceps – and if you’re working on muscle-ups, it’ll improve the transition from pull-up to dip. ‘Do a push-up, but at the bottom of the move, lower yourself on to your forearms and drive back up,’ says Adam ‘You’ll get some movement from pushing forward with your toes, but try to minimise it.’
If you’ve tried a renegade row, you know the demand on your abs is highest when the dumb-bell leaves the floor. Enhance this effect with a pair of benches. Start with your forearms on one bench and your feet on the other, then pick up a dumb-bell with one hand and hold. Your obliques will thank you later.
Stir the pot
You’ll need a gym ball for this one. ‘Get into a plank position with your forearms on the ball, then move the ball in a circular motion while keeping your hips as still as possible,’ says Adam. ‘Do five to 10 reps in one direction, then switch directions. The slower you go, the better.’ You will work your abs from many unexpected angles.
Words: Joel Snape; Photography: Unsplash