A common test of core strength for many is to see how long one can hold a plank, the position in which one is stretched out on the ground with the weight on their forearms and toes.
The body should be in a nice, straight form. Performing this exercise can get addicting to see how long one can keep the form.
But while endurance in this position might be good and fun, it isn't very functional for most people, particularly athletes who must use their core to stabilize dynamically.
A good example of this is a biker who is stretched out over the handle bars in a semi-plank form. Rather than holding a still position though, a biker constantly is moving back and forth to stabilize the weight as the legs pedal or the body adjusts to varying terrain.
So what's the best way to do planks? Get them moving. Not only will you have a strong core from the planks, but you will have better core reaction and stabilization.
Here are a few variations of the plank anyone can add to his or her workout routine.
Up-downs: Starting in a traditional plank form, use one arm to lift yourself into a higher, more of a pushup position. Then do the same with the other arm so your body once again is level at the top of a traditional pushup position. Lower yourself back to the starting point one arm at a time, too.
This is one of my favorite exercises because it puts a high demand on the stabilizers in the spine, an area often overlooked.
Performing one to three sets of 10 to 12 reps is a good goal.
Bosu rocks: This exercise is particularly good for cyclists. It makes use of a Bosu, a common piece of equipment in most gyms and one that is highly recommended for home gyms as well because it is so versatile.
To perform the rocks, turn the Bosu so the light blue side is on the ground. Grasp it on each side and rock side to side. You can make this more challenging by lifting a foot off the ground.
Shoot for three to five sets of 30 to 45 seconds.
Plank balances: Start at the top of a pushup position with your back straight, hips level and eyes forward. Reach forward with one hand while keeping the straight form. If possible, reach out with the opposite back leg and hold the position for about 10 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
It takes an incredible amount of strength to do these properly without losing form. You can keep yourself honest by placing something on your lower back that will let you know if your hips aren't straight. A straight rod or water bottle works well.
Performing two to four sets of three to six on each side is a good goal.
The final plank exercise utilizes a workout ball. Perform this one by wrapping your ankles and feet around a medicine ball while holding yourself up with the arms in the plank position.
Rock the ball from one side to another using your hips and lower body. This exercise is ideal for golfers because it not only strengthens the core but encourages more flexibility in the hips with the twist.
If you are a golfer, you'll want to get good at these and try to perform them faster and faster to help your golf swing be powerful and quick.
Performing three to five sets of 30 to 45 seconds is a good set.
So there you have it. Planks are a great, fun core exercise, but you can increase the challenge and functionality by making them more dynamic.