Fitness: Science has found the best core exercise to tone up and lose weight

The plank is one of the best exercises we can do to strengthen our core muscles and lose weight. Here's why

Planking to tone up and lose weight
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you've been to a boot camp or circuit-training style fitness class before, chances are you've been asked to perform lots of exercises which will teach you how to get a slim waist by burning calories, such as burpees. However, if you also want to improve the muscles in your core, it's hard to beat the plank – another favourite of fitness instructors all over the world. 

The plank is a move which works your core muscles, which are important in all walks of life, from sitting up in old age to playing sports in your mid-twenties. We're taught how to do a crunch and sit-ups, which also work these core muscles, very early on in life, usually in gym or PE classes. However, there's a reason planks might not just be as good as these other exercises, but far surpass them in terms of safety and efficiency. 

Planking to tone up and lose weight

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When you do a sit-up or a crunch, your spine curves as you perform the movement. However, your lower back is still pressed against the hard surface of the floor. If performed incorrectly, this can put too much pressure on the spine, according to studies. The plank, meanwhile, puts no pressure on the spine at all, which means it's safer to perform. 

The plank is also highly effective in terms of efficiency. One study pitted a varied abdominal workout against a workout programme consisting purely of planks over the course of thirty days. The study looked at abdominal folds and waist circumference to try and identify which was the best at losing weight.

The plank was found to be as good as a varied abdominal workout, with almost no difference between the two. This single move works as many muscles as a full core-focused workout session, making it a high efficient addition to your arsenal of fitness moves. For added instability, which will force your core to work even harder, you can add in one of our best ab rollers, which will increase the difficulty (and the results) of the plank. Think of it as playing a video game and selecting "hard mode".

How long do you need to hold the position for to get the core-strengthening and weight-loss benefits ? One Harvard University report suggests anywhere from 10 up to 30 seconds is plenty for a beginner, and beyond two minutes has very little benefit even for experienced plankers. 

If you're very fit, several "sets" of one or two-minute holds would be ideal. However, if this is your first time challenging yourself with a plank, try three sets of 10 seconds, slowly increasing the time as you get more confident. On a related note, find out how our writer got on when she did a plank every day for a month.

Not sure how to perform a plank? The short video below talks you through several plank variations, from beginner forms to advanced moves. Happy planking!