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Planks Exercise for Firm Flat Belly or Ripped Abs without Sit Ups or Crunches

Updated on September 26, 2013


Hold your body off the ground with one or both arms and brace yourself keeping your spine straight and inline with your head. While holding the position contract your glutes and abs. That is how you do a plank. Form is important. Don't let your back sag. You should be stiff. The abs, back and other muscles get a workout while they stabilize your body. They are an isometric exercise which means you workout your muscles while staying still.

To do a standard plank you get into the standard raised push up position and hold it. Try to hold the stance for 30 seconds to 3 minutes. You should be on your toes. Wearing shoes can make it more comfortable. If you can hold it for longer than two minutes then you are ready to try some other variations.

There are lots of ways to do planks just like there are lots of ways to do push-ups. Push-ups focus on pushing yourself upwards and planks focus on holding yourself up so you don't move. Before doing planks you may want to strengthen your abs with some easy ab exercises.


You should feel some discomfort while doing the planks. Shaking is also common as your muscles struggle to stabilize your body. What you want to avoid is having really sore abs the next day. Give your body time to adapt and learn your limits before you do as much as you can. Take it easy the first week. If you push yourself too hard it can greatly increase the amount of time you need to recover. Straining the muscles makes them weaker, not stronger. The muscles firm up when they heal and they do most of their healing while you are asleep.

Arms and Legs

Me doing side planks.
Me doing side planks. | Source

The width between the arms and between the legs can be narrow or wide. They don't need to remain on the ground and they don't need to be fully extended. You can move them up and down, leave them up or bend them. Planks can be done while facing the floor, facing up or facing sideways. The direction you are facing can change or stay the same throughout the plank. It is mainly a static exercise. The point is to hold a pose while keeping your body steady but you can transition from one stance to another. So there are lots of different ways to do them.

I like doing elbow planks because they seem to work my abs more than when I am in the raised push up position. To do the one arm and one leg variation hold an arm up and the leg on the opposite side. Twisting so you are sideways with one hand off the ground is referred to as the side plank. Side planks are good for your obliques. A good plank routine should always include side planks so you workout your side abs. For side planks one leg is over top of the other. Most planks are done with the legs extended but you can bring the knee up towards your arm or kneel on the floor. As with push ups you can do them at an incline or decline. Experiment to find ways to challenge yourself and add some variety to your workout.

Some of the most difficult planks have your legs off the ground. For the planche plank you lay down in the raised push up position with your hands near the side of your hips, palms pointing outward and your legs extended behind you off the ground. Tucking your knees under your chest makes it a lot easier but still difficult. I can do tuck planches but not for very long.

Walk, Roll or Slide

The best way to get in and out of the position you want may be walking your hands, rolling dumbbells or by sliding a towel on a smooth surface. Ab rollouts are a plank exercise. The rolling lets you transition into and out of a more difficult stance. Since holding up your body is more difficult with your hands in front of you the duration of the reps are shorter and it is usually done while kneeling. It can be done with your knees off the ground if you have really strong abs. After you can hold the plank position for over a minute you may want to walk, roll or slide out for a more intense ab workout.

Moving your arms forward is a simple way to increase the difficulty and work your muscles differently. When pushing your arms forward remember that you need to be able to pull yourself back. Doing it near a wall can stop you from accidentally going to far. Your hands can be close together or separated.

Me wearing a heavy backpack.
Me wearing a heavy backpack. | Source
Doing planks on a stability ball.
Doing planks on a stability ball. | Source

Extra Weight, Balls and Aditional Exercises

Planks are a body weight exercise but you can add additional weight. Just make sure good form comes first. Place weight plates on your back, wear a backpack or hold onto dumbbells. Start with light weights so you don't hurt yourself. Another option is to alternate between exercises. You core muscles including your abs help you balance and hold your stance. Exercise balls change the workout by making it more difficult to balance. Place your hands or legs on a ball and your muscles will need to work harder at stabilizing your body. There are the big stability balls and the small medicine balls.

Dumbbell planks and rows also known as renegade rows are a good exercise. You get into the plank position while holding a pair dumbbells. Raise your elbow near shoulder height bringing the weight up to your side then lower it back down. Repeat with the other elbow and keep alternating arms until you are done. The movement should be slow and steady. Adding push-ups to this exercise works more muscles and burns more calories. Do the push ups between rows.

Doing an L-sit in my computer chair.
Doing an L-sit in my computer chair. | Source

L-Sits and L-Hangs

For the L-sit and L-hang you hold yourself up using your arms while your legs are out in front of you. The head, torso and legs form an L shape. Holding your legs out in front while they are off the floor gives your lower abs a great workout. These exercises are not exactly planks but they are very similar. It would be a good idea to include them with the plank exercises.

Duration, Reps, Sets, Routines

How long, how many reps, and how many sets depends on the types of planks you are doing, your muscles and your ability to stay focused. Hold the planks for as long as you can without hurting yourself. Stop if you can not longer maintain good form. Do as many reps as you can per set and do as many sets as you feel like doing.

To prevent the plank workouts from getting longer and longer increase the difficulty of your plank routine as you get better at them. Make up your own plank routine and change it often so you keep making progress and to reduce boredom. Give yourself a good workout but don't overdue it or you will be in pain tomorrow and maybe the day after that.

Planks VS Crunches and Sit-Ups

  1. Planks are better for slimming down than crunches and sit-ups because they work more of your body. You can workout almost all of your muscles doing planks. Working out more muscles means you burn more calories while doing the exercise. Building more muscle means you burn more calories throughout the day. You should still do some cardio.
  2. Exercises like planks and yoga are relaxing. Stress is one of the most common reasons for weight gain. Reducing stress makes it easier to lose weight. Getting a good night's sleep, maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly is easier when you are not stressed. I don't find sit-ups or crunches relaxing.
  3. Good posture makes you look better and it is better for your health. Doing planks can improve your posture so you sit up and stand up straight. You don't want your stomach to stick out because of poor posture. Sit ups and crunches can make your posture worse. Doing them can cause poor posture and back pain.
  4. You can do a lot of different variations of planks, include equipment like weights and balls, and you can easily incorporate other exercise. I find them less awkward than sit ups and crunches.
  5. The more difficult planks like the planche plank can provide you with something to strive for and a sense of accomplishment that is greater than doing a large number of sit ups or crunches.

The comparison is based on my experiences and opinions. I like planks. I don't like crunches or sit-ups.

© 2013 Michael H


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