Why to Ditch the Sit Up & Embrace the Plank

It’s a common question: what are the best exercises for your core? Here’s why you should ditch the sit ups and embrace the plank to improve your core strength.

What is your core:

Think your “core” is just your ab muscles? Think again! The core muscles include your abdominal muscles, back muscles and the muscles around the pelvis. The core region contributes to spine stability in a variety of postures, providing the ability to flex, side bend, and rotate the trunk.

Sit Ups – the low down!

For a long time, we all thought that sit-ups or crunches meant tighter abs and a 6 pack. We were taught to do sit ups at school, and they’ve been used as a test of core strength by the Defence Force, schools, gyms, and even people working out at home. But lately, classic sit-ups have fallen out of favour. Why?

One of the main reasons is that sit-ups are hard on your back. By pushing the natural curve of your lower back into a hard floor you’re literally changing the natural shape of your spine and asking your muscles to lift your upper torso. What will happen is that your hip flexors and probably your neck flexors will do all the pulling just to get your chest of the ground. This won’t work your core muscles.

So, what should you do instead?

Introducing the humble “plank”. It might seem simple, but planks are the gold standard for working out your core. The structure of core muscles (flat and straplike) responds well with no movement (isometric contractions) whereas round muscles respond well to lengthening and shortening (isotonic contraction) such as performing a bicep curl.

Unlike the sit-up which targets just a few muscles, the front plank recruits balance of muscles on the front, sides, and back of the body. Many activities of daily living, as well as sports and recreational activities, call on your muscles to work together, not on their own.

Remember, your core goes far beyond your abdominal muscles and shouldn’t be improved in isolation.

Here’s how to do a perfect plank:

1. Place your mat or towel on the floor.
2. Get down on all fours. Bend your elbows so that your upper body is supported by your forearms. Relax your hands with palms down.
3. Extend your legs backward. They should be at their full length. You head should be level with your neck and shoulders. You will be looking at the floor.
4. Raise your lower body by bending your toes and holding yourself up. Your upper body should be supported by your forearms. This creates the plank.
5. Tighten your abs. Hold the pose for as much time as you can until you feel fatigued.

If you feel yourself becoming shaky, check that your abs are still tightened. This pose helps strengthen your core muscles.

Want to build your core strength?

If you want some advice on building your core strength talk to an Accredited Exercise Scientist. If you have an injury or chronic illness, an Exercise Physiologist will be able to prescribe safe and effective exercises that are specific to your needs.

To find an Exercise Scientist or Physiologist near you, click here.

Written by Steven Roberts. Steven is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist who is runs his own business and is committed to keeping people fit and healthy.