Raise your hand if you like planks. No hand? No surprise.
Planks are one of the least-liked exercises but one of the most important to perform regularly. Trainers say planks strengthen your core and protect your spine from injury. But holding a plank in an isometric contraction - without moving - is a waste of time after 30 seconds. Add movement to add fun. Here are ways to increase your enjoyment of planks and boost your core strength.
To perform a proper plank, lie face down on the floor, tuck your toes under, place your elbows on the floor under your shoulders and your forearms parallel. Draw your ribs toward your hips, drive down through your elbows and straighten your legs to lift your hips. Hold your body parallel to the floor with the front of your hips flat. Work your way up to 30 seconds, eventually performing three sets. Once you can do that, add variety and work your way up to one minute with these variations.
- Plank with hip dips. From plank, lower alternate side hips toward the floor.
- Plank "around the world." Raise then lower your right arm, repeat with your right leg, then your left leg and finally your left arm. Repeat this pattern.
- Plank with reverse row. Grab a pair of dumbbells and begin in a high plank position with your arms extended under your shoulders. With your left hand anchored to the floor, pull the dumbbell toward your shoulder as in a reverse row, then switch sides. Repeat on alternate sides.
- Plank with lat pull. Anchor a resistance band near the floor far enough that you have to reach for it. Hold your plank and pull the band toward your shoulder. Work one side several times and then switch sides.
- Plank with a hip lift. Begin with your elbows under your shoulders in a plank position, then press your hips toward the ceiling. Pause and slowly lower to plank. Repeat.
- Gliding planks. Use a slippery disc on carpeting or a towel on a hard floor and slide your hands to the side or front. Work one or both arms at a time.
- Stability ball planks. Place your legs on top of a stability ball and your hands under your shoulders. Begin by holding the plank. Add movements such as tucks and pikes.
- Suspended planks. Use a strap to support your legs. Add leg movement such as knee tucks or side-to-side sways.
- Side planks are the same as regular planks, but they're done on one elbow with your body perpendicular to the floor. Make sure to place your elbow under your shoulder. Keep your body straight and lift your hip off of the floor. You may lower your bottom knee to the floor to modify this exercise. Once you can perform three sets of 30 seconds, add arm or leg movement or both to make it more fun.
- Plank to side plank. Begin in plank, then raise your right arm to the ceiling and rotate your hips perpendicular to the floor. Return to plank and switch sides.
These are a few suggestions to add enjoyment to your workout. In the next column, I'll provide other exercises for your core-strengthening pleasure.