When you’re trying to build an impressive six-pack, it’s tempting to favour the moves you know well, but if you’re new to the gym you may not know that sit-ups and crunches have fallen out of favour with those in the know. “The old sit-up with someone holding your feet on the ground is dead,” says coach Ben Scott. “It distorts your hip tilt and you’ll end up using your hip flexors to do the move, over-activating a muscle that is shortened anyway.”
So what should you do? Research published in the Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research found that isometric abs moves – planks and others where you hold a position to work your core – can activate up to 100% of your core muscle fibres, whereas the classic crunch only hits around two-thirds.
And that’s not all. “If your abs are constantly in a contracted position it can cause bad posture, so it’s important to strengthen them in an elongated position,” says Scott. “Planks and other similar isometric moves are ideal, but don’t just hold for as long as you can because your technique will give up way before you do. Short holds, done correctly, are more effective.”
Try these three plank variations, including the side plank star (pictured above) to sculpt a solid six-pack faster.
Why The classic isometric hold, the plank works your entire core because all these key muscles must stay fully tensed to keep your body stable.
How Start on your elbows, which should be directly below your shoulders, and your tiptoes. Raise your hips and brace your abs and glutes, so your body forms a straight line from head to heels. Maintain this position without letting your hips sag.
Progression Start by doing sets of 15-30 seconds, and try to increase the duration slightly every time you do it. Once you can hold each one for a minute, make the move harder by keeping one foot off the ground, or by raising both feet on to a box or, for an even tougher move, a gym ball.
Expert tip Visualising your abs muscles tensing before a set will recruit more muscle fibres so you work your core more effectively, according to the International Journal Of Sports Physiology And Performance.
Why Side planks place a greater workload on your obliques (side abs), as well as the deeper-lying muscles of your core.
How Start on your side, with your weight on one elbow and legs together. Place your other arm against your leg. Raise your hips and engage your abs – imagine drawing your bellybutton in towards your spine – and hold this position without any hip sag.
Progression Start by doing 15 seconds on each side, so each side plank set lasts 30 seconds. Then gradually increase the duration to a minute. At this point make the move harder by resting your elbow, or even both feet, on a gym ball.
Side plank star
Why One of the hardest isometric holds, the side plank star requires your core to keep your body not only straight but also stable, as you raise one leg and one arm.
How Start with one hand and one foot on the floor. Raise your hips, keeping your core braced, then raise your top arm and leg as high as you can to form a star shape. Hold this position without falling over.
Progression Start by doing sets of 15 seconds each side, then gradually increase the time you spend in the hold, working each side equally. Once you can hold it for a minute, either move your arms and leg up and down under control for the duration of the set, or hold a dumbbell in your top hand.