Planks are one of the best exercises for strengthening your core, but did you know there are at least 50 variations on this popular, core-strengthening exercise? Planks have an advantage over abdominal exercises like crunches and leg raises because they work all of the muscles in your core region whereas crunches, sit-ups, and leg raises mainly target your hip flexors. Plus, they’re safer too.
When you first start out, a basic plank is a challenge to your core muscles, but your muscles eventually adapt to the movement and you stop making gains. If you want the strongest core possible, moving beyond a basic plank will help you achieve it. Get ready to tackle an exercise you might not do. It’ll add new life to your core routine and help jump-start your results.
Now that you’re convinced you need to vary your plank workout, let’s see one way you can do that. The plank variation that doesn’t get the attention it deserves is the reverse plank. If this exercise isn’t part of your routine, here’s how to do one:
- Sit on a mat with your legs stretched out in front of you.
- Lean back and place your palms behind your hips on the floor. Your arms should form a straight line with your shoulders and your fingers should point toward your feet.
- Using your hands to support your weight, slowly raise your hips toward the ceiling until they form a straight line with your body.
- Hold the position for 10 seconds and work up to 30 seconds. Pull your abs in as you hold your body in this position isometrically.
- Lower your hips back down to the floor in a controlled manner.
- Repeat the movement as soon as your buttocks contact the floor.
- Repeat 8 to 10 times. Work up to 3 sets.
Are there downsides to doing this exercise? Reverse planks may not be for you if you have wrist problems, as it places your wrists in an unnatural position. If you experience wrist discomfort when you do the exercise, try it off of your elbows. Rather than placing your hands on the mat, place your elbows on the mat instead.
Avoid These Mistakes When Doing Reverse Planks:
- Don’t let your hips sag when you hold a reverse plank isometrically. Once you can no longer hold your body in a straight line, lower your hips back to the floor.
- Avoid letting your head fall backward or extend it upward when holding a reverse plank to avoid a neck strain.
- Don’t attempt a reverse plank until you’ve mastered a basic plank and can hold one for 60 seconds.
- Do reverse planks off your elbows if you have wrist problems.
The Benefits of Reverse Planks
If you’re going to the trouble to add a new plank to your line-up, it must have benefits, but what are they?
When you lift your hips off the floor to do a reverse plank, each half of the rectus abdominis muscle contracts to pull your trunk forward. Therefore, you challenge your six-pack muscles, which is one reason people do planks. The internal and external obliques also get some stimulation with the reverse plank. However, your abs aren’t the only muscles you’re working when you do a reverse plank.
When you raise your hips off the floor, as a reverse plank requires, your glutes and hamstrings get a workout, as your hamstrings contract when you launch into a reverse crunch. In the same way, your glutes help perform a reverse plank since they extend the hips. You’ll get even more glute action if you squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement and hold them isometrically. Why not work as many muscles as you can?
Another advantage of planks is it’s a low impact exercise. Therefore, planking is easy on the joints. Plus, you’re not flexing your spine and placing added stress on your back. Most trainers believe that planks are a more back-friendly exercise than exercises that involve spinal flexion, like sit-ups. But are they?
Even the military is phasing out the sit-up and testing the strength of new recruits with planks. As they point out, sit-ups and crunches emphasize the hip flexors more than they do the rectus abdominis muscles. If you devote most of your ab workout time to sit-ups and crunches, you’ll strengthen your hip flexors but less so your abdominals. So, look beyond the crunch and sit-up to an exercise that works your entire core, like planks.
How to Make Reverse Planks Harder
Once you’ve mastered a basic reverse plank, increase the challenge and see what your body is capable of. One way to do this is to raise one leg off of the floor at the top of a reverse plank and hold it as long as you can as you squeeze your glutes. Then switch legs. For even more of a challenge, lift the leg higher. This variation is even more effective than a standard, reverse plank for strengthening the glutes.
The Bottom Line
Don’t give up basic forearm planks but challenge your body differently by flipping your body and tackling a reverse plank. It’s not an ideal exercise for beginners since you need baseline core strength to do it safely and effectively. So, master a forearm plank first. Then, add reverse planks to your ab and core routine. But don’t stop there. There are lots of other plank variations that can help you build a firm, strong core that protects against lower back pain and helps you generate power when you play. Take advantage of these core strengtheners!
- com. “The Reverse Plank is the Best Core Exercise You’re Not Doing”
- ACE Fitness. “Reality Check: Are Planks Really the Best Core Exercise?”
- J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Mar;27(3):590-6. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31825c2cc7.
- Mayo Clinic. “Core Exercises: Why You Should Strengthen Your Core Muscles”
- International Sports Sciences Association. “Are Sit Ups Bad for You? The U.S. Military Seems to Think So…”
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