Memories of endless sit-ups and crunches during gym class at school may dissuade you from developing your core strength. However, your core is crucial to most of your physical activity because it is the central link that connects your upper body to your lower body.
“Weak or inflexible core muscles can impair how well your arms and legs function,” according to Harvard Health Publishing, an online resource from the university’s medical school. “And that saps power from many of the moves you make.”
Luckily, if you’re dreading the repetition of a sit-up, a bodyweight exercise inspired by yoga can help strengthen the coveted abdominal muscles. You can perform a plank by starting face-down on the floor, then pushing your weight into your toes and onto your hands with your arms straight (similar to the start of a push-up). Hold this position for at least 30 seconds and keep your hips in line with your stomach and knees; you don’t want to let your hips sag toward the floor or bend up toward the ceiling.
A more difficult variation that engages your abs more is to clasp your hands, rest your forearms on the ground, and push your weight into your elbows. To work your way to this position, you can start with resting your weight on bent knees instead of your toes.
So what happens when you do planks regularly for a month?
You’ll strengthen your core
Stacey Lei Krauss is a fitness expert and founder of the willPower Method, an equipment-free group exercise discipline. As she writes in her guide to planking, “If executed properly, the plank exercise will strengthen your abdominals, back, shoulders, arms and legs.”
Research from 2016 backs this up, as well. A study published in the journal Physical Therapy Rehabilitation Science looked at abdominal performance with 20 healthy males who performed plank variations on different surfaces. “The plank exercise strengthens the core muscles effectively,” researchers concluded. “These results suggest that plank exercises improve muscle activities.”
You’ll improve your balance and stability
The plank is a static exercise, meaning you hold the plank position instead of repetitive movements like crunches. Because of the focus on maintaining your balance in holding one position, your core muscles develop their stability.
Harvard Health Publishing says this training is important in everyday tasks, especially as you age. “Bending to put on shoes or scoop up a package, turning to look behind you, sitting in a chair, or simply standing still — these are just a few of the many mundane actions that rely on your core and that you might not notice until they become difficult or painful.”
You’ll save yourself from neck pain
Crunches may be great for your core, but when you feel muscle fatigue and start to lose form, your neck can take a hit.
According to physical trainer Jillian Michaels, “Abdominal exercises can strain the neck simply because the average head weighs eight to 12 pounds. When your neck muscles are weak, you’ll really feel that strain.”
When you lose form in a plank, it’s easier to tip to the side and readjust than to stop and notice your form during a set of crunches.
You’ll learn willpower
Mastering the patience to hold your muscles during the plank instead of firing them quickly is a practice in willpower.
Dr. Brianne Grogan, PT, DPT of FemFusion Fitness encourages people to progress their plank. You may start with 30 seconds in an easier position, but after that becomes easier, try switching to a more difficult position or holding the plank for longer.
Try playing a pump-up song and progressing by holding your plank for one verse when you start. Then, by the end of the month, see if you can hold your plank for as much of the song as you can.