Rip up with this underestimated move for
abdominal strength, endurance and stability

Goal: Strength, Endurance
Bodyparts: Abs (transverse abdominis)

What is the most important abdominal exercise you can do? Well, it depends on who you ask but the answers usually range from the almighty crunch to the ubiquitous leg raise. But the exercise that is most often overlooked for its ability to construct a fortified, functional midsection is the simplest of the bunch: the plank.

Because it lacks the dynamism of other spinal flexion-focused exercises like the crunch, the plank isn't typically a stalwart in most ab training programs. But it should be.

What is the plank?

The most basic version of the plank simply involves resting on your elbows while keeping your body rigid -- like a plank -- as your core muscles work to hold that position for a given amount of time.

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Why is it important?
"The plank is important anatomically because it is a isometric stabilization exercise that helps build the muscles that help support and stabilize the spine," says Matthew Choate, NASM-CPT, a personal trainer based in Long Beach (Calif.).

What are its benefits?
"It builds endurance throughout your entire core musculature," says Choate. "And you must set a solid foundation before you can properly train the muscles of your outer core." The plank also lends itself to building greater stability and holding intraabdominal pressure on bigger lifts such as the squat and deadlift. In other words, the stronger the core, the stronger you are in general.


How do you master it?
"When performing the plank, keep your body in a straight line from head to heels," says Choate. "Also make sure to also pull your belly button toward your spine. This will help engage the deep abdominal muscles that support your back. Make sure not to perform the common mistake of lifting your hips to high in the air -- this usually means your abdominal muscles are not strong enough yet and a modified version would be more appropriate at this time."

Are there other versions?
Yes, and they range from "much easier" to "annoyingly more difficult." "If your abdominal muscles are not strong enough yet to perform the plank correctly, try the modified version of placing your knees on the ground instead of on your toes," says Choate. Other versions of increasing difficulty include the side plank, plank with a leg lift or arm lift, plank on a BOSU ball or Choate's personal favorite, the side plank with a cable row.

Try these two plank-focused challenges to start building stronger abs from the inside out

Challenge 1
Get into plank position and hold to failure. Do this for three sets and log the total amount of time spent in plank position. Wait 48-72 hours and repeat the challenge, aiming to shave at least 10 seconds off of your total time. Once you have taken a full minute off your original time, start the challenge again but place a BOSU under your elbows.

Challenge 2

Perform rolling planks for 10 minutes. Start in a side plank on your right side and hold for 20 seconds. Roll onto both elbows for a standard plank and hold for 20 seconds. Roll again into a left side plank for an additional 20 seconds. This constitutes one set. Without rest, repeat the process. Roll through 10 total sets, or 10 minutes total, without resting. Once the 10-minute challenge becomes easy, add 10 seconds to each segment for a 15-minute routine.