We know that a variety of factors play into building your strongest abs possible—diet, of course, is a big one since you do need to be eating right in order to fuel (and, in turn, see) muscle growth. (Four words: less sugar, more protein.)
But proper exercise is obviously crucial too, and if you still deign to log dozens of crunches on a regular basis, all we can offer is a resounding STOP! Fitness pros agree that crunches aren't just largely inefficient; they can be borderline dangerous. "Crunches are linked with spinal micro-fractures and only improve strength in a non-athletic way," says Mike Durner, a certified strength and conditioning coach for Carmichael Training Systems.
Instead, it's time to zero in on a far more effective exercise that not only targets your core but actually engages your entire body—safely, to boot. That distinction goes to the plank. Behold your new workout catchphrase:
"If you want to work your core, put your hands on the floor."
So says neuromuscular physical therapist Kristina Marcussen to PopSugar. By engaging your entire body weight, she says, you "activate more muscles and engage more muscle fibers." Fitness gurus ranging from Kayla Itsines to celebrity trainers concur that it's easy (and free!) to get in amazing shape just by using your own bodyweight, and planks are a great cornerstone of this strategy. "Nothing says 'full-body workout' like planking," say Karena and Katrina of Tone It Up. (For proof of that, try sweating your way through the pair's plank leg-lifts.)
Check out another tricky plank variation, and shop some of our gym bag essentials below.
For more no-nonsense fitness tips, be sure to check out our brand-new wellness destination, THE/THIRTY!