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The best exercise for awesome abs

Jessica Collins Grimes is a Boston-based freelance writer specializing in health, fitness, parenting and lifestyle issues. She also writes about her attempts to juggle career, motherhood and fitness on her personal blog, KeepingMommySane...

Just plank it

Do you plank? If not, you should. Learn why this simple yet challenging abs exercise (which has its own Twitter handle!) is such an effective tummy-toner.

Woman doing plank

Just plank it

Do you plank? If not, you should. Learn why this simple yet challenging abs exercise (which has its own Twitter handle!) is such an effective tummy-toner.

Crunches and sit-ups are so yesterday. If you’re looking for the most efficient and effective exercise to strengthen and tone your core, look no further than the plank. This multitasking move is growing in popularity; you can even join #plankaday challenges on Twitter.

Want in on the plank revolution? Joseph St. Denis, a certified personal trainer, sports nutritionist and speed and agility coach at Anytime Fitness in Medway, Massachusetts, explains why he believes planks should be a staple in your core workout.

What is a plank and why is it so effective?

The plank is an isometric, or static, exercise. You use your arms to raise your body off the floor and hold your whole body straight like a plank of wood. It sounds simple, but it’s a very effective move because stabilizing yourself in one position forces you to work and engage your deepest core muscles, not just your “beach muscles or magazine abs,” St. Denis says.

A bonus? If performed correctly, planks also strengthen the muscle groups that guide the spine (including your lower back and glutes), improving your posture and working muscles in your hips, back, glutes, legs, shoulders and arms.

Plank
Correct plank

What is the correct way to do a plank?

For the basic, or forearm, plank, St. Denis says start on your knees and elbows, locking your hands together. Straighten your legs and raise your body so you are supported by the balls of your feet and forearms, making sure your feet are shoulder-width apart and elbows are directly under your shoulders. Pull your bellybutton in towards your spine to engage your abdominals. You want to be in a straight line from your neck to your heels, and avoid shrugging your shoulders, looking up or raising your hips too high or too low. Correct form will prevent injury and ensure the effectiveness of the exercise. Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds to begin with.

High plank
Correct high plank

Perfected the basic plank? Consider variations or advanced moves.

Looking for more of a challenge? As you get stronger, St. Denis suggests progressing to a high plank, in which you use your hands instead of your elbows and forearms to hold your body up. Another variation is a side plank, which targets the oblique muscles, or side abdominals.

For another advanced plank, start by lifting one leg during the hold and then switch legs. “If you are more daring or you have been progressing past those, maybe add suspension bands or a stability ball and really challenge yourself by adding an unstable surface or other suspension tools,” says St. Denis.

Side plank
Correct side plank

Need more convincing?

St. Denis believes the beauty of planks is that they can be done anywhere and don’t require a ton of space — or time. Additionally, planks offer a total core workout, including your obliques, upper abs, lower abs and lower back, while also working your stabilizer muscles. It’s also easy to monitor your progress: As you build strength, you’ll be able to hold longer and longer planks.

Watch: How to do the perfect plank

Our host shows you how to have the perfect form while doing planks.

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