Planks are one of those exercises that look easy, but once you've assumed the position, your core muscles will beg to differ. An effective way to strengthen the muscles that surround and support your hips, abdomen and lower back, planks are great for new moms trying to return to that pre-baby body or seasoned moms who just want the strength to carry kids and groceries. Once you've mastered the basic plank, you can add a weight belt to increase the difficulty of the exercise.
The front plank is generally what comes to mind when you think of planks -- supporting yourself face-down on the floor. This type of plank primarily targets the rectus abdominis muscle but also intensely works the obliques, hip flexors, quads, glutes, pecs and most of the back muscles to stabilize your entire body. To perform the front plank, begin in push-up position. Bend your arms and lower onto your elbows to support your upper body. Straighten your back, pull your abdomen into your spine, stabilize your hips and hold the position for at least 30 seconds. Do not allow your hips to sag toward the floor during the exercise.
The side plank's primary target muscle is the oblique muscles that are found on either side of your abdomen. Like the front plank, the side plank also enlists the help of several other muscle groups including the entire gluteal complex, quads, hip flexors, adductor muscles on the inner thigh, erector spinae, lats, pecs and the deltoids. To perform a side plank, lie on your right side with your hips stacked and legs extended. Support your upper body with your right elbow and place your left hand on your hip. Contract your muscles to lift your hips off the floor so that your body forms a straight line from your head to your feet. Hold this position for at least 30 seconds.
Adding weight to your planks will make them that much more challenging. While a weight belt will work, you can also try a weighted vest or even just placing a plate weight on your back or side, depending on what type of plank you're doing. Begin with light weights, gradually increasing the weight as your body adapts and becomes stronger. If you want to increase the difficulty of your planks but lack the equipment necessary for weighted planks, try lifting one leg or one arm so that you have only three points of contact with the floor rather than four.
The front plank can put considerable stress on your lower back. If you experience any pain or discomfort during an unweighted plank, it would be wise to forgo weighted planks. Consult your health care provider before beginning a new exercise routine.