Why This Exercise Is The Fastest Route To A Flat Stomach

Why This Exercise Is The Fastest Route To A Flat Stomach
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It might hurt but it's amazing for all-over-body toning. Here's why regular planking is the best exercise for a flat stomach.

Often the simplest exercise moves can be the toughest.

As anyone who has tried to spend a minute or longer in a plank position knows, it takes a lot of huffing and puffing to hold it steady without flopping back onto your exercise mat.

But planking (not to be confused with this daft internet craze) is tough precisely because, when done correctly, is amazing for your body. Why? Regular planking helps target those deep core muscles which other moves won't reach, tightening your abdominal muscles to tone up your stomach, as well as blasting the arms, chest, shoulders, bum, legs and even the neck.

There are long-term benefits to planking too. Strengthening your core with frequent planking can also help guard against lower back pain, plus they're brilliant for stretching out those muscle groups which can become stiff and bunched up from sitting down all day (meaning they work wonders if you do a desk job).

And more importantly, all the equipment you need is a patch of level floor. "The plank is one of the most versatile exercises" agrees Dmitri Tkatchev, Director of Epoch Fitness "it doesn't take much time and you can do it anywhere, anytime with little or no equipment or sports clothing. I do it in my boxers sometimes! Because it is so convenient to do you can make a one minute plank a part of your daily routine and continue with it when you go on a holiday or a work trip."

Planking: Gisele's go-to exercise for a flat stomach

They might have won out in the genetic lottery, but Miranda Kerr and Gisele also claim regular planking helps them keep their phenomenal bodies in shape. 

Gisele challenged US Tonight show host Jimmy Fallon to a round of planks when she went on his show this year - which she did wearing a sparkly corset, naturally - while Kerr says a quick plank is a good substitute if you don't have time for a full work out. "'I like to exercise every day but I mix it up" she said in an interview last year, "I may even just put some music on and let Flynn [Miranda's son] dance around while I hold the plank position for ten minutes to strengthen my core."

Could you hold a plank for ten minutes like Miranda Kerr?

Ten minutes is pretty intense (even for fitness addicts) but a good minute-long plank is a more realistic goal for those of us not blessed with abs of steel.

Because planking can be really challenging on your body, it's easy to make mistakes that will do more damage to your body than good. To help get it right, we asked Janey Holliday, founder of women's outdoor fitness bootcamp Fit For A Princess, to give us her essential Do's and Don'ts to help you perfect your plank.

DO line yourself up straight

"The key to a good plank is imagining your body is floating straight off the floor. Make sure your elbows are directly under your shoulders, your palms are down (with your hands relaxed) and your lower arms are straight out in front of you in a number 11 position."

DON'T arch your back

"It's very tempting for your back to dip low or arch upwards. Try to keep your hips in line with your shoulders and your back flat." 

DON'T forget to pull in your tummy

"If your tummy isn't engaged then you'll put too much pressure on your arms and shoulders. For a plank to be successful you need to suck your belly button in towards your spine and clench your glutes."

DON'T run before you can walk

"Don't go straight into an advanced plank if you've never done one before. If you're a beginner try one with your knees on the mat first. Every time you plank try to add a few extra seconds on to build up endurance. The Fit For A Princess plank challenge record is 8 minutes and six seconds. The world record is one hour and 17 minutes!"

DO remember to breathe!

"Think of the plank as a whole body workout which activates muscles from head to toe. As it's a real test of endurance keeping your breathing steady throughout is really important."

DON'T forget it's all in your head

"It has been proven that thinking of positive things while you're working out will improve your performance, so try to visualise something nice rather than just thinking 'ow ow ow!'"

Janey runs women's outdoor fitness bootcamp Fit For A Princess where drop-in classes are just £5

Director of Epoch Fitness Dmitri Tkatchev on how to do a perfect plank

1) Keep the neck lengthened. Shoulders over the elbows.
2) Shoulder blades set back.
3) Tummy pulled in with belly button drawn in.
4) Lower back in neutral position, not overarching.
5) Buttocks clenched.
6) Knees fully straightened.

Mistake 1: Dipping the hips towards the floor and over-arching the lower back

Why this is a problem: "Poor set-up or weaker lower abdominals will cause hips to drop. This can potentially cause a strain on the lumbar spine (the area of your back just above the bum) and can lead to sore lower back or an injury."

How to prevent it: "Avoid over-arching your lower back by using a mirror to check there is a straight line between shoulders, hips and feet. Keep the stomach fully engaged. If holding a full plank come down into the kneeling position when this happens. If holding a kneeling plank take a rest."

Mistake 2: Lifting and hunching the shoulders while holding the plank

Why this is a problem: "Keeping the shoulders drawn up to the ears is a sign that you are not engaging the muscles around your shoulder blades. This can cause a strain around the top of your back and neck, particularly a large triangular muscle called the trapezius. This can lead to sore neck and can effect how you carry your posture through the day."

How to prevent it: "While holding the plank draw your shoulder blades (scapulae) back and down. This way you will draw the shoulders away from the ears keeping the neck area more relaxed."

Mistake 3: Poor breathing or holding the breath

Why this is a problem: "Every muscle in the body contacts when holding a plank. For these muscles to keep working to their fullest they need a constant supply of oxygen. Lack of proper breathing means that there is not enough oxygen getting into the lungs and the body tires much quicker than when you breath with control."

How to prevent it: "Focus on deep breathing through out holding the plank. Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. 3D breaths will help inflate the lungs to their fullest. So instead of just breathing into your chest, aim to also breath into the side of your ribcage and the lower portion of your upper back. As the plank gets harder your breathing will naturally quicken but as long as you take control of your breath you will give your muscle the fuel they need to keep going."

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