Many people have a rather misguided belief that in order to get an awesome six pack, they need to perform endless amounts of crunches. Performing vast amounts of crunches can build strong abdominal muscles, however this can lead to a muscular imbalance. The abdominals will become strong and the lower back muscles will be reliably weaker. This can cause a hunching over of the body due to the relatively overdeveloped abdominals and could lead to lower back pain and injuries.
Are crunches really so effective for developing a strong core if they can cause a body imbalance and potentially crippling back pain? Is there a way to develop the abdominals while improving posture and strengthening the lower back. Say hello to the plank.
The Plank, also known as the bridge, could have considered a static modification of the push up. Taking the standard push up position, hands slightly more than shoulder width apart with the feet together, the body in a straight line from toe to neck. Drop from your hands to your elbows, and brace your abdominals to maintain good straight form. This can be difficult to achieve for a long period of time in the beginning, sometimes holding for 10-15 seconds initially. As you develop your core strength, you will be able to maintain the bridge for longer, building up to over a minute.
The plank stretches the abdominal muscle, rather than a contracting in a crunch, and develops the obliques and lower back muscles which are also utilized to maintain the stability when holding the bridge position. This exercise conditions the abdominals while your body is straight, which can lead to improvements in your posture.
Your abdominals will be effectively traced to "tensed" when your spine is straight; this will allow you to better view your well developed core proudly when you are walking around with your head held high. The plank can be made easier by dropping from the toes to the knees. This will reduce the load imposed on the abdominals and make it more achievable for beginners. I would recommend starting on the toes and dropping to the toes to allow you to complete your determined hold time.
Placing your elbows on a medicine ball, will further reduce the stability and engage your core more, allowing those with more developed abdominals to maintain a continuous progressive overload of the target area muscles. The bridge offers an alternative to crunches and is considered one of the most effective exercise for developing both the abdominals and obliques.