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If You Do Just One Thing… Do Planks

It looks deceptively easy, but a plank, when held correctly, is one tough exercise — and one of the most beneficial in terms of total-body shaping.

Known for producing killer abs, the plank actually requires much more than simply keeping your tummy tight. In order to maintain proper form, your entire core, from your lower back to your glutes, must be activated, along with your quads and shoulders. If not, although you might be able to hold the plank longer, you are not planking effectively.

When your entire body is engaged, a plank is difficult to maintain for more than 60 seconds.  

Proper Plank Form

Think push-up position, on your toes with either your hands or forearms planted firmly on the floor. Keep your body in a straight line, with your core tight (navel to spine) and glutes activated to keep your hips from sagging. Your head should be in line with the rest of your body in a neutral position with your gaze fixed on the floor in front of you. Finally, make sure that your shoulders are back and down — not up by your ears. 

Once you’ve mastered the form and can hold it correctly for 60 seconds, incorporate variations like side planks, single-arm or -leg extensions, knee drops, or plank jacks for a cardio boost.  

If a taut, toned tummy isn’t enough reason for you to incorporate this total-body move into your routine, here’s a little more incentive to rock the plank: 

It Keeps You Balanced

Whether you are getting up from off the floor or reaching for things on high shelves, good balance is especially important as we age. A strong core not only helps you maintain your balance, it can also improve your posture, helping you sit and walk a little taller, which leads us to … 

It Helps Relieve Back Pain

Lower-back pain is one of the most common complaints of women over 40. It can be the result of nothing more than years of sitting and basic wear and tear. A strong core helps strengthen the lower back, which can prevent those painful tweaks when you bend over to pick up groceries or grandkids. 

It May Increase Flexibility

Stretching, lengthening, and strengthening the muscles from your shoulders to your toes through a plank helps increase your flexibility, which can help prevent pulled muscles and other workout-related injuries. 

Photo: Johnny Greig

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