Planks are one of the most common moves you’ll find in all kinds of ab workouts, and for good reason. Core exercise hones your core’s ability to get stronger, one of the four main muscle group functions.
But if your core workouts are filled with nothing but planks—and if you hold that position for marathon workouts that stretch into minutes—you’re approaching your training the wrong way to achieve real strength goals. or aesthetics. This way the boards are overstated. Right here, men’s health Director of Fitness Ebenezer Samuel, CSCS and MH Advisory Board Member David Otey, CSCS, SPPC break down the aura of the extra long plank hold and provide even better options for your abs.
How the board is overrated
The biggest problem most people have with planks is the lack of progression, says Samuel. People know to take heavier weights or increase their reps for moves like curls to get on the road to progressive overload and muscle growth, but for the plank the only option guys turn to often is to add more time. It’s not effective, and it’s also an indication that you’re not preparing as much as you should for the intended benefits of the plank.
“There’s no virtue in holding a plank for the Guinness Book of World Records,” he says. “If you want a six-pack, there’s a better way.”
Otey agrees. “One of the key things about holding a sustained plank beyond 30 seconds is that you find your body starts to go into compensatory patterns,” he says. “Really focusing on the shoulder girdle in particular, focusing on the lower extremities, and mainly the hip flexors, to try to keep you awake for a long time.”
Ultimately, once you stop squeezing your muscles to create full-body tension, you lose the benefits of the plank. But that’s not all. Samuel notes that planks only train one core function — bracing — when you could be exposing your abs to even more movement.
Plank alternatives for better core workouts
Plank with shoulder taps
3-4 sets of 40 seconds on, 20 seconds off
Right off the bat, this move adds anti-rotation, another of your core functions, into the mix. You will also improve shoulder stability. As you move through the reps, struggle to keep your shoulders level.
Lever board long
3-4 sets of 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off
Extend your arms above your head to bring some anti-extension to your workout. As you progress, you can extend your hands even further in front of you.
Deployment of the abdominals
2 to 3 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions
Grab a wheel and roll for this variation, which Otey calls his favorite for abdominal training.
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