Why Planks Don’t Work (and the Real Way to Get Six-Pack Abs)

In the world of social media (where all of our families and friends are watching), we all want to impress with a more defined midsection. From barre classes to CrossFit, you’ve probably noticed that most fitness routines incorporate planks for the promise of strong abs, too. And while holding a 60-second plank is a staple in many peoples’ gym regimens, it might not actually be as effective as you think.

Why traditional planks don’t work

young woman doing plank

Young woman doing a plank | capdesign/iStock.com

Planks require no equipment, which is one of the reasons they’re a favorite amongst gym-goers. To start, go into the top of a push-up with hands directly below the shoulders, or rest on the forearms. Keep your back completely flat (no arching!) while you keep your midsection elevated by pressing your feet into the floor.

It seems easy enough — but there are some serious planking mistakes that can sabotage your core workout. Daily Burn explains many people arch their back without realizing it, which can undo the tension in your core. Additionally, many others dip their hips too low into the move, which is common when your abs and arms tire. This can seriously strain your low back and also take the engagement away from your core.

Also, make sure you’re looking to the floor while you’re doing this move. Looking too far upward can put undue strain on your neck, take the tension out of your abs, and ultimately wreck your form completely.

These mistakes can lead to injury at worst or leave your core totally unchallenged at best — and unfortunately, they’re way more common than you think. There’s a good chance you’re slightly arching your back or letting your hips sink while you’re doing the move, and that’s particularly true if you’re aiming to hold your plank for over 60 seconds. And The Telegraph reports sports scientist Stuart McGill says there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that holding a plank for longer than 10 seconds won’t lead to greater strength gains, either.

How to actually make planks work for you

Step by step instructions for abs

Bird dog plank instructions | iStock.com/blanaru

If you’re a diehard plank fan, there’s good news. There are multiple ways to make the traditional plank a much more effective exercise. Once your form is strong, T Nation suggests you try these:

1. Knee drive plank

For this variation, you’ll want to be in a high plank (push-up position). Simply bring one knee into your chest as you’re planking, and then extend it back out. Do this as slowly and controlled as possible to really feel the lower core burn, and don’t allow your upper body or midsection to sway with the movement.

2. Limb-lift plank

Here, you’ll add a tap with the arms or legs. Remain in a high plank position and lift the left hand to tap it to your right shoulder. Then, alternate by tapping your right hand on your left shoulder. You can also do this with the legs by lifting one leg and tapping out to the side before bringing it back to center.

It’s vital that you don’t sway while doing this move. Keep your core still — you’ll really feel the challenge.

3. Bird dog

This is one of the most well-known plank variations, as it really challenges your balance. You can be in a high plank for this, or you can rest on your elbows. Take one arm out straight in front of you and the opposite leg straight out behind you and hold the position. See how long you can stay here before having to tap back down.

The secret to defined abs

Even with perfect planks and all the variations you can imagine, you still won’t develop that coveted six-pack with ab exercises alone. So, what’s the secret to getting that ripped look? Your diet.

To see those defined abs you’ve worked so hard on, you’ll have to shed the layer of fat that’s covering them. Make sure you’re getting plenty of protein, as protein helps keeps you satiated for fewer calories than other foods. Additionally, watch your carb intake, avoid alcohol and processed goods, and be aware of your caloric needs. If you’re burning fat, you’ll see that strong core in no time.

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