Sculpt Rock-Solid Abs
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Like most women, I've always been determined to get a defined, flat stomach. But after years of doing 500 crunches during every workout, I learned that determination only gets you so far when the approach is wrong. Even an entire hour of crunches won't match the body benefits of a 10-minute plank workout.
The plank is one of the best exercises for a flat, toned stomach because it works all the muscles in your core, including the rectus abdominus (the "six-pack muscles" you can see), transverse abdominus, internal and external obliques, hips, and back.
Why not just focus on the six-pack muscles? Strengthening your entire core is not only crucial for sculpting a flat stomach, but these muscles also provide support for the entire body in everyday movements, reduce back pain, and improve posture. Plus, planks burn more calories than sit-ups or crunches because they recruit muscles in the legs, arms, and rear too. It's truly the ultimate total-body toner!
Here are some of my favorite plank variations. Start with the first four, holding each exercise for 30 seconds (work up to 1-minute holds). Do each plank variation once and then repeat the entire series 2 more times (3 times total). When you feel comfortable with the first four planks, advance to incorporate the next three (No. 5-7), holding each one for 30-60 seconds. For a killer core workout, combine all seven into one routine.
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Start to get into a pushup position, but bend your elbows and rest your weight on your forearms instead of your hands. Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles. Brace your core as if you were about to be punched in the gut. Hold this position for 30 second while breathing deeply.
Plank with Leg Lift
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Get into plank position on your forearms with your abs in tight. Engage your glutes to lift and hold one foot a few inches off the floor, foot flexed. Do 10 lifts on one side, and then switch legs.
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Lie on your left side with your knees straight. Prop your body up on your left elbow and forearm, feet stacked. Raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from your ankles to your shoulders. Hold this position for 30 seconds (or longer if you can), bracing your abs and breathing deeply for the duration of the exercise.
Side Plank with Leg Lift
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Start in side plank position with your left elbow below your shoulder, feet stacked. Keep your core braced as you lift your right (top) leg as high as you can while maintaining proper form. Flex your foot and point your toes slightly down. Lower your leg and repeat until you've completed 10 reps. Switch legs and do 10 reps on the other side.
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Come into top-of-a-pushup position with your hands on the floor beneath your shoulders, arms straight. Set your feet close together and straighten your legs, with your weight on your toes. Your body should form a straight line from your ankles to your head. Brace your abs and squeeze your glutes to help keep your body rigid. Hold this position for 30 seconds (or 1 minute if you can).
Straight-Arm Plank with Shoulder Touch
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Come into top-of-a-pushup position with your hands on the floor beneath your shoulders, arms straight. Set your feet close together and straighten your legs, with your weight on your toes. Drop your shoulder blades down and back and keep a straight line from your head to your ankles. Keeping your hips still (they'll want to move!), lift your right hand and tap your left shoulder. Slowly replace your right hand and repeat on the left. Continue alternating for 30 seconds.
Straight-Arm Plank and Raise
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Come into top-of-a-pushup position with your hands on the floor beneath your shoulders, arms straight. Set your feet slightly wider than your shoulders and straighten your legs, with your weight on your toes. Raise and straighten your right arm, with your thumb pointing up. Hold for 5-10 seconds and then switch arms. Continue alternating until your time is up, keeping your hips still for the duration of the exercise.
As always, if you have any questions about your ability to perform these exercises safely, check with your doctor or physical therapist.