When it comes to core exercises, people have their favourites. The crunch, reverse crunch and bicycle crunch are beginning to show their age, as reports circulate people doing these exercises incorrectly leads to spine health issues in later life. These days, the trend is on core exercises that don't put pressure on your spine, such as the plank.
The plank is an isometric movement, which means it relies on you holding a difficult pose rather than executing a series of movements correctly. Studies have shown it works four major abdominal muscle groups at once, and holding the move for longer periods of time means you can easily track your progress (as our writer found when she did a plank every day for a month).
However, experts in some quarters think the plank could be improved. Dr. Wayne Westcott, instructor of exercise science at Quincy College, writes in a report for the American Council on Exercise (ACE): “I'm not against planks, but I feel that they don’t work the abs in the most advantageous way and have multiple drawbacks.
"To build muscle strength, you need to activate the muscle to near fatigue, using anaerobic energy."
The anaerobic energy system supplies the body with explosive, short-term energy, and is key to burning fat as well as building muscle. In order to keep those muscles activated, the ACE recommends using movements while planking such as jacks or mountain climbers, changing the nature of the exercise from isometric to dynamic.
If all this is starting to sound a bit complicated, the general jist of it is this: to make planks more effective, you should do a movement during the plank instead of staying still. The research suggests instead of holding a plank position for a certain length of time, we should take up the position and then do a movement (like the Swiss ball jack knife above) for the same length of time.
This is said by the ACE to activate the same muscles as a plank does, but far more efficiently.
Other movements you can do might involve one of our best ab roller entries. This mini but mighty beast engages multiple core muscles in one hit, whilst also strengthening the back and arms. ACE also recommends the mountain climber, which is similar to a Spider-Man plank - the latter of which you can learn more about, along with other plank variations, in our comprehensive 'how to do a plank' guide.
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Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and is currently Fitness and Wellbeing Editor at TechRadar, covering all things exercise and nutrition on Fit&Well's tech-focused sister site. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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