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The New Rules of Abs

Crunches are out, Planks are in.

Gone are the days when you would painstakingly do a million crunches with the hopes of getting that beautiful ab sections (called the 6-pack) that everybody dreams about. Not only that.. the scary truth is that crunches are bad for your spinal discs which are parts of your body that do not heal. The compression created by a crunch is so high that you could end up hurting yourself and getting a herniated disc. No, the crunch is indeed out. But before you can say, Hurrah! bye-bye nasty, torturous crunches, you need to say hello to a new form of pain – The Plank!

Exercises that stiffen the abdominals generate greater forces in your hips, which allows you to move with more explosiveness and efficiency. They also make you look better. A pair of studies from 2006 and 2008 show that moves like the rollout work the upper and lower abs about 25 percent more efficiently than a crunch or a sit-up.

photo credit – healthhabits [dot] ca

So how should you go about doing the plank? The basic plank would be where your toes and forearms are on the floor, shoulder blades pulled and down, butt down, body straight, and then hold that position for as long as you can. However, once you can hold it for 60 to 90 seconds with ease, then you should start moving on to a more challenging version of the classic.

Arm Positioning

Elbows must be placed directly beneath your shoulders – joints in one line (like a skyscraper). Weight should be distributed directly beneath your upper arms, under the elbows. The forearms should be pointed in whatever direction is most comfortable, with no additional weight on the forearms, wrists or hands.

Shoulder Pack

Shoulders must be packed down on the ribcage to connect the structure of the arms to the structure of the core muscles. Actively contract the lat muscles to pack the shoulders down in relation to your torso.

Spinal alignment

The spine should be lengthened in equal opposite directions. Lift your head away from your shoulders, lengthening your neck while simultaneously reaching your tailbone in the other direction. Do not round the spine or extend the neck. Maintain this long spine throughout the entire duration of the set.

Core and glute activation

Activate the core musculature with a gentle contraction while also contracting the glute muscles, which results in a slight tailbone tuck (similar to a dog tucking its tail between its legs). Your exhale should be timed with this contraction (see below).

Leg drive

Instead of just balancing on your ball of feet, drive them backwards into the ground by contracting your quad muscles, which will extend your knees to lockout. Push your feet backwards into the ground, which will drive your heels backward in combination with the knee extension. This should be counter-balanced with a forward arm drive.

Foot and Leg Positioning 

The best position for your feet is hip-width apart. Similar to your forearm positioning, experiment with what feels best for you. You don’t want any excess strain on your hip joints or the surrounding musculature to distract you or limit your performance.

SO now you’ve got the plank sussed…

You need to increase the difficulty – go for the ultimate .. the starfish side plank!

photo credit – tumblr [dot] com

Basic Side Plank

The basic side plank is designed to work your abdominals and obliques, but it requires strong hip and leg muscles to hold your body straight. Lie on your side and prop up on your lower elbow. Engage your core and hips to raise your body off the floor so only your elbow and lower foot are touching. Hold the position for 10 seconds, then increase the duration gradually.

Hip Lift

Engage your hips by adding a hip lift to your plank workout. Assume the side plank position, then cross your upper foot over your lower foot so that both are touching the ground. Lower your hip until it barely grazes the floor, then tighten your hips, buttocks, thighs and stomach to pull your hips back into plank position. Hold the plank for eight seconds, then lower and lift again.

Arm Lift

Now with your hip raised and in perfect position, hold the side plank pose and lift your upper arm straight above your side, turning your head to look up. As you rotate your body slightly, tighten your gluteus to help hold your body straight.

Leg Lift

And as a final challenge to complete the starfish pose, keeping this position and engaging the hip flexors as well as the abdominals, gluteus and thigh muscles, and with arm straight up reaching to the sky, lift your leg and balance for the perfect starfish side plank pose.

Well done! You are now plank guru. don’t mess!


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