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Why the plank is the best ab toner
For many people, getting a six-pack is the ultimate achievement and a sign that all their exercise and dieting has paid off.
Few things are more impressive than each individual muscle standing out, and the 'V' shape that runs from the abdomen down to the tops of the thighs, but the fact is that few people achieve this - and that's mainly because they're doing it wrong.
Many people hoping to build and tone their stomach muscles will spend hours and hours doing endless crunches on a sit-up mat or trying all kinds of exercises involving gym balls and other equipment, but the truth is that it's possible to achieve a six-pack without any equipment - all thanks to planking.
The secret weapon
Many fitness gurus refer to planking as the 'secret weapon' in the fight against fat, and this is because it not only targets the abs, but the entire body, ensuring that everything from the tips of the shoulders to the bottom of the calves gets a workout.
When we say planking, we don't mean the craze involving being photographed laying face down in bizarre locations, but rather the art of lying parallel to the ground while raising yourself off it - a seemingly simple exercise that many people do badly, rendering the act almost useless.
Do it right
Begin by laying face down on a fairly soft surface - carpet is fine - then lifting yourself onto your forearms and knees. At this point, positions your arms so that your hands are balled into fists and level with your shoulders, with your elbows tucked into your ribs and running parallel down the sides of your body, forming right-angles with your arms.
Next, move the pressure on your legs from the knees to the toes and straighten your legs out, so that every part of the leg from the thigh to the ankles is the same distance from the ground. At this point, your whole body should be roughly 8-10 inches off the ground, with only your forearms, fists and toes touching the surface.
The next part is easy to understand but hard to put into practice - suck in your stomach, and simply hold the position for as long as possible while breathing slowly. After a while, you'll begin to shake and your stomach will feel tight, with a slight burning sensation - hold it as long as you can, before gently lowering to the floor.
Step it up
After you've been planking for a while, you'll find that it becomes much easier, which is when it's time to step things up. It's possible to target different areas of your abdomen by adjusting your position - one effective method is to target the obliques, which run down your sides from the bottom of your ribs to your hips.
To do this, adopt the normal planking position, then simply lean to the side and place all of your upper body weight onto one forearm, holding for as long as you can. Once this becomes unbearable, swap to the other forearm and repeat. With practice, you'll become adept at this, too, while noticing that your abs are more defined and your stomach is flatter - all without a sit-up in sight.