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Top 10 Benefits of Planks and Pushups

Planks and pushups are examples of effective, full-body exercises that you can do virtually anywhere. They're deceptively simple, such that many people pass over them in favor of flashier workout techniques, but don't be fooled: Planks and pushups are a solid exercise choice that can help you build a strong core, upper and lower body strength and more.

There's a reason why the U.S. military still uses pushups as part of their basic training and physical fitness tests — it's a demanding maneuver and also one that can be used as an indicator of fitness. What's more, it's possible to modify pushups to suit any workout level, from beginner to advanced.

Similarly, planks are also suitable for all levels and engage many muscle groups in your body simultaneously, making them an ideal way to train your whole body. If you're still wondering why planks and pushups are worthy of being added to your regular workout routines, here are some top reasons to consider.

Five Top Benefits of Planks

Planking involves holding your body off the ground in a straight line. To perform one, start off on your hands and knees, then lower your forearms to the floor so your arms form a 90-degree angle.

Move your feet back and, with only your toes on the ground, hold your body and legs stiff. Be sure that your low back is not sagging, your knees are straight and your abs are tightened. Now hold for at least 30 seconds. What can you gain from this straightforward bodyweight exercise (which uses your own weight to provide resistance)?

1. Strong Core Muscles — Planks not only work your transversus abdominis muscles, which are the deepest layer of abdominal muscles, and other primary core trunk muscles, they elicit the greatest activation compared to other exercises like a traditional trunk flexion and extension exercise.

In fact, a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that "the forearm plank variations required over two times the average activity of the rectus abdominus, external abdominal oblique and lumbar erector spinae," than another core exercise, which suggests they may "be optimal in terms of maximizing strength, improving stability, reducing injury and maintaining mobility."1

2. Reduced Back Pain —Because planks build up your core, they're excellent for preventing back pain. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), "Because the plank exercise requires minimal movement while contracting all layers of the abdominal fascia, it is an excellent way to strengthen the core, which, in turn, helps reduce low-back pain. As the deep abdominal muscles become stronger, your midsection tightens."2

Further, research shows that exercise focused on activating the deep trunk muscles, such as planks, may be beneficial for low back pain.3

3. Increased Balance and Flexibility — Planks target the muscles needed for proper posture, stability and balance. According to Dwight Chapin, team chiropractor for the CFL's Toronto Argonauts, "Planks strengthen the muscles that make holding a neutral spinal posture possible, reducing the stress to your back even when sitting.

Improved abdominal strength and core stability will also enhance your balance and flexibility, making your movements more efficient and reduce the risk of injury."4

4. Improved Athletic Performance — Endurance plank tests are associated with measures of athletic performance, and being able to hold a plank longer may be a marker for better endurance as well an ability to quickly change directions (such as while playing soccer).5

5. Better Posture — Planking requires engaging the muscles necessary to stay upright and maintain proper posture, including your back, chest, shoulders abs and neck. According to Glenn Wright, professor of exercise and sports science at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, "They [planks] maintain the stability of the core muscles, which support proper posture by safeguarding an erect position and proper alignment of the spine."6

Plank Variations to Try

Planks are a versatile exercise, which only adds to their appeal. If you find that standard planks are too challenging, for instance, you can start off with your knees on the ground, as demonstrated by Mercola.com personal trainer Jill Rodriguez in the video above.

If you're looking for more of a challenge, try planking with your feet elevated on a bench. Further, rather than keeping planking as a static exercise, you can incorporate some of the variations below, which are also demonstrated by Rodriguez:

• Up Down Plank — Start on the floor on your knees in straight-arm position. Next, move to your forearms, hold for two to three seconds and move back to a straight arm position. Up and down is one repetition

• Planks With Leg Raises — Start on the floor with your knees bent and in the straight-arm position. Pull one leg up toward the ceiling as if a string were pulling your leg from behind the knee. Hold for one or two seconds and bring it back down. Repeat with the other leg. This is one repetition.

• Plank With Knee Crunch — Place your hands flat on a chair or bench, placing your body in the plank position, bearing your weight on your toes. Bring your right knee to your right elbow and return to the start position. Repeat with your left leg. This is one repetition.

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