Strengthen Your Core With the Plank!

How this simple exercise tightens your tummy, builds muscles and boosts bone strength.

Health Monitor Staff
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Working core muscles helps you stay balanced, and resistance exercises boost bone strength. An efficient way to do both? “The plank!” says Margaret Martin, an Ottawa-based physiotherapist.

Here are three variations of the plank. If your doctor gives you the okay, pick the one you can do using good form—which means keeping your body aligned! “In any of these, visualize a yardstick resting on your tailbone,” says Martin. “Brace your muscles to make a line from your ear, shoulder, hip and knee.”

Progress slowly. If you can hold a plank for 10 seconds, do 3 sets, resting briefly between each. As you get stronger, add time to each. Once you can do one 30-second plank, work up to a second and third. Then progress to the more difficult versions.

1. Wall plank
Stand facing a wall. Extend your arms and plant your palms against the wall about 6 inches below shoulder height. Incline forward. Using your core muscles—your chest, back, abs and hips—maintain a straight spine for as long as you can maintain proper form.

2. Plank from hands and knees
Get on the floor on your hands and knees. If that is difficult, try resting your forearms on a stable step or stool in front of you that allows you to maintain a straight spine in this modified position. Engage your abdominals to brace your spine and hold the position for as long as you can maintain proper form.

3. Plank from hands and toes
In this variation, plant your hands on the floor under your shoulders. Extend your legs behind you, with toes tucked under. Brace your core muscles to maintain a straight line from head to toe.

Variation: Some people prefer to rest on their forearms instead of on their hands. This modification is more challenging to your core, says Martin, since “the more horizontal you get, the more you stress your core muscles.”

February 2014