If you've been to a boot camp or circuit-training style fitness class before, chances are you've been asked to perform a plank at one time or another. 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.
There are lots of exercises, such as crunches and sit-ups, which also work these core muscles. 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.
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.
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.
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!