Planks, not crunches, are the best exercise for abs and overall core strength.
There are many mysteries that go unsolved in life, now we finally have a definitive answer to the question “which abdominal exercise is the most effective?”. Forget about endlessly crunching your way to a stronger core – because your abdominal muscles work far harder during a plank, research by Pennsylvania State University has proven.
Scientists attached electrodes to 20 participants and had them tackle 16 different core exercises. The electrodes measured how intensely each exercise activated their muscles. The more a muscle is activated, the harder it’s working, ‘thereby maximizing functional gains and peak performance’, the researchers wrote in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
Additionally, the exercises that target your core muscles in isolation – such as traditional crunches, oblique crunches, and the superman hold – aren’t the most effective at activating your abs. The best type of exercises are ‘integration’ exercises, which also recruit your back, shoulder, and glute muscles – thus, traditional planks, side planks, and mountain climbers – are far more effective.
If you think about it, when you assume the (plank) position, it forces the muscle groups in your midsection to work extra-hard to keep your spine stable and ensure your vertebrae don’t move. This creates intra-abdominal pressure, which carries over to such exercises such as the squat or deadlift, where significant focus is on maintaining a braced and stable core.
It is easy to get lost in the motion of performing endless, passive reps of sit-ups. The stillness of the plank affords you the opportunity to actively think about achieving tension throughout your entire core and build/improve the mind-body connection. Improving this ability has a huge carryover to every other exercise you perform by helping you to build total stability through your trunk. This helps you to transfer power more efficiently, perform more reps, and avoid injury.
To get the most out of the move, focus on switching on every single muscle in your body, from your abs to your glutes, to your quads, creating as much tension as possible and actively thinking about trying to ‘compress’ your body towards a center point. Also, you do not need to hold this pose for days on end, either. Forget those ‘five-minute plank challenges’ or holding for a max time. When done properly, for maximum ‘time-under-tension’, you shouldn’t be able to hold this ‘hardstyle plank’ for longer than 20 seconds. My recommendation is to start off with 3 or 4 sets of 20 seconds with a 40 second rest period.
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