In the encyclopedia of abs workouts, everyone raves about the plank. It’s effective, of course, since it engages so much of your core (not to mention your arms, shoulders, and glutes), and there are dozens of plank variations you can play around with (bear planks and side planks, for instance). But, I’ve got controversial news for you: A physical therapist says there are two abs exercises that are more effective in getting a stronger core.
“There are many other exercises besides a plank that can help strengthen the core,” says Adefemi Betiku, DPT, physical therapist and instructor at Club Pilates. “Basic planks predominantly tap into strengthening and activating the transverse abdominis.” However, there are plenty of other muscles in your core that you should be paying attention to, he says.
Betiku’s take? “The most effective core exercises are the ones that strengthen and activate specific parts of your core, like the bicycle and Superman exercises,” he says. What’s more, he’s anti-plank because there are easy ways to wreck your form, which means not only are you not activating your core, but you could be hurting your body. “So many people experience pain with planks because of poor form,” says Betiku. “Your spine and neck should remain neutral with your hips in line with your body.” Miss that alignment and you’re missing the point of your abs workout. That said, keep scrolling for tips on slaying the most effective core-strengthening exercises that Betiku swears by.
Behold, one of the most popular, go-to oblique-strengthening exercises you can do: bicycles. Lay flat on your back and place your fingertips behind your head. Tighten and engage your abdominals by gently pulling your bellybutton down. Bring your knees to a tabletop, then lift your shoulder blades and rotate your upper body to the left, aiming to bring the right armpit toward the left knee while extending your right leg. Switch sides, bringing the left armpit toward the right knee. Continue this pedaling motion slowly for a total of 12 to 16 reps and three sets. Pro tip: Avoid pulling on your neck.
“These work to strengthen the obliques and erector spinae, which are muscles in your back,” says Betiku. (Your back is part of your core, too!) For the Superman, lie on your stomach with your arms straightened out next to your head. Tighten your stomach muscles by gently pulling your bellybutton up, then lift your right arm and left leg while keeping your head looking down and next to your arms. Hold for five seconds then lower. Repeat with the left arm and right leg, and work toward eight to 12 reps, three sets on each side. Betiku says to avoid arching your back—keep your abdominal muscles engaged and your pelvis tucked for an effective core workout.
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