Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Kat Borchart
If a genie in a bottle granted you three wishes, would one of them be for a permanent set of perfect abs? Don't waste one of your wishes! There is a way to get abs, but it does require a lot of work — and a great deal of planking! Want proof? We consulted with Sarah Chadwell, NASM-CPT and natural bikini competitor, for all the info you need about why planks can really help you to create the abs you've been wishing for.
Planks Build the Base Layer
First off, let's consider the facts: abs, like any other muscle, have to be exercised to be built. The plank is a simple and effective exercise to flatten your tummy and build and strengthen your core. Chadwell said, "Think of planks as your base layer. On frigid days, you put on base layers under your clothes to keep you warm. Your base layers stay close to your body and are the foundation for holding heat. When you perform planks, you are engaging your entire core, including the deepest layers of muscle that are closest to your spine known as your transverse abdominals. Your deep muscles are the foundation for core strength, and they must be well-developed in order for you to have a flat, ripped stomach."
But let's also consider a reality check: planking alone won't get you a rock-hard set of abs that show. There are a few more pieces to the puzzle. You already have abs (the muscles are there, but they generally don't show on many of us — especially after Christmas), but the only way to see the definition is to get lean, drop weight, and target the muscles with planking.
Chadwell told us that there are two crucial steps to this: diet and total-body strength training and conditioning. The diet part is simple but admittedly not exciting: eat clean, whole foods, focusing on lean protein, lots of greens, and no processed foods or sugar. The training and conditioning are also not rocket science, but they'll force you to really sweat: you're going to have to lift heavy in the gym, not skimp on cardio, and target your abs with a fair amount of planking.
How can Chadwell know this with such certainty? She told us about how she got hers before stepping onto a fitness competition stage: "I did not see the full potential of my abs until I started dieting for my first bikini competition at age 34. I was in good physical shape before I decided to compete, but the diet I was on and the cardio that was added to my normal workout routine was what revealed my abs. I definitely did planks regularly as well."
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography
How to Do a Standard Plank
- Your arms should be shoulder-width apart with your hands directly below your shoulders flat on the floor.
- You'll be balancing on your toes with your feet almost touching.
- Lift your midsection so that your back is flat. Be sure your hips are stable.
- Engage your lower back muscles.
- Brace your core. It feels like you are pulling your navel toward your spine, not just sucking in your gut in.
- Keep your neck and spine neutral by picking a spot to look at on the floor.
- Hold this position for one minute.
- Rest 45 seconds and repeat for three one-minute rounds.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
"As a personal trainer," Chadwell told POPSUGAR, "I often see people using poor form when they perform planks. They are common mistakes that are easy to correct so that the emphasis is properly placed on your core." Here are the three most common errors you should look to avoid:
- The Sag: Many people let their stomach sag toward the floor. This happens when you let your hips drop. You can avoid this by engaging your glutes.
- The People Watcher: Many people have their head up and are looking around the gym. This takes your spine and neck out of a neutral position. Look straight down at a spot on your mat to fix this.
- The London Bridge: Your kids are not going to drive their toy cars over the London Bridge today. Instead, they will cruise the flat roads. Don't arch your back toward the ceiling. Keep it flat, making sure your hands are wide enough apart to keep you from shrugging your shoulders and thus arching your back.
The plank is the perfect isometric exercise for building abs. Add them to your routine three times per week or just get on the floor at home and knock them out daily. You will find that you have a flatter, more toned stomach in mere weeks.