When it comes to improving core stability, the plank has your back (and your front!). By working your transverse abdominis — the deep core muscles that wrap around your middle — as well as your back, shoulders and glutes (yes, you should activate your butt, too), you get a full body burn in one isometric movement. But the best thing about planks: You can continuously switch them up and make your muscles work even more. Check out these creative twists on a typical plank routine and you’ll see what we mean.
To do it: Stand with your feet planted 3-4 feet apart, toes slightly turned out, hands on your hips. Lower into a plie by bending your knees out over your toes and lowering your hips directly underneath your shoulders. Then, as your straighten back up, slowly lift the right knee up towards the right shoulder. As you go back into the plie, slowly return the foot to the floor. Be sure to move at a very controlled pace to really engage the obliques the entire time—on the way up and on the way down. Do 10 repetitions on the right side, then another 10 repetitions on the left side for a total of 20.
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To do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and pressed firmly into the floor and hold a medicine ball (or other similar weighted object). Brace your abs in tight (as if preparing for someone to punch your stomach) and use your lower body to start the movement by bending your knees, sitting back into your hips, and reaching the ball down across the outside of your left leg. Stand up, swinging your arms across your body and up to the right while pressing your hips forward. Do 10-12 reps going from left hip to right shoulder, and then repeat on the other side.
But instead of just trying to perform as many reps as possible, slow down and really focus on the quality of the movement—especially the eccentric, or downward motion, of the exercise, he says. “The eccentric contraction is the most important phase when sculpting any muscle.” Plus, focusing on quality over quantity will help protect your back (some experts say crunches can be potentially troublesome for guys with back issues.)