Crunches and sit-ups have long been staples of a typical abdominal workout. However, physicians at Harvard Medical School say there's a better way to work your core and sculpt your abs. Don't fret—it's still a zero-equipment move that you can do just about anywhere. According to Harvard Health's Healthbeat newsletter, the best exercise for toning your midsection is a simple plank position, Business Insider reports.
For the uninitiated, a plank is a pre-push-up position in which you use your core to stabilize your body while holding yourself up with hands directly underneath shoulders and feet either together or hips-width distance apart. The back should remain flat as abs work to keep the midsection from dipping or arching. This targets the muscle groups differently than traditional crunches and is a safer way to exercise your core, according to a recent post from Healthbeat. Here's why this workout deserves a place in your workout routine.
Sit-ups are hard on your back
When you engage your body in a sit-up, you push your curved spine against the floor while working your hip flexors (the muscles that go from your thigh to your lower back). "When the hip flexors are too strong or too tight, they tug on the lower spine, which can create lower back discomfort," the newsletter reads. A plank won't cause any distress to your low back when done properly, making it a much safer exercise.
Plank exercises target more muscles
When you hold a plank pose, you're using muscles on the front, sides, and back of the body, which is much more than the abdominal muscles used in a typical sit-up or crunch exercise. "Your core goes far beyond your abdominal muscles," the newsletter explains.
Plank exercises require your muscles to work together
According to the newsletter, everything you do in daily life requires that your muscles work together, not in isolation. That's why plank exercises are far more effective than sit-ups and crunches, which strengthen only a few muscle groups at a time. "Through dynamic patterns of movement, a good core workout like plank exercises helps strengthen the entire set of core muscles you use every day," reads Healthbeat.
Try holding plank positions in increments of 30 seconds next time you hit the mat for an ab workout, and see how far you can work your way up. When you're ready for something more advanced, try adding side planks and hip dips.