The 1 Exercise That Makes You Better in Every Workout

POPSUGAR Photography | Kat Borchart
POPSUGAR Photography | Kat Borchart

Lots of people and brands like to promise a secret and never-before-heard solution that can instantly get you fit. The sad truth is that the only thing that's going to be different after partaking in these quick fixes is your wallet. What is a well-meaning, secret-searching, possibly not-yet-in-love-with-the-gym-person to do? Aside from not falling for the quick (expensive) fix, what you have to do is start planking.

Why should you be planking above all else? According to Toronto-based personal trainer Nathane Jackson, CSCS: "The plank is extremely important for both beginners and more experienced lifters because it teaches body awareness and creates stability required for all exercises, not just the big lifts." That's right — it doesn't matter if you're running, doing yoga, lifting weights, sitting at a computer or finding the best deals at an outlet mall all day; if you're not planking, and enjoying the many benefits of doing them, you're not going to be your best. If you start now, you'll be resetting your fitness because no other form of activity (lifting weights, running, playing sports, or doing yoga) can harness and progressively improve core strength, stability, and mobility like simply planking every day. "The plank, when taught and performed correctly, teaches us how to maintain spinal alignment," says Jackson, "which is necessary for every lift ranging from deadlifts and squats to rollouts."

Before you drop to the floor and do what you think is a plank, we asked Atlanta-based personal trainer Kendall Wood, NASM CPT, and author of Core Fitness Solution, for his step-by-step advice on how to do it right.

How to Plank:

Step 1: Lie face down on a mat so your toes, forearms, and fists are holding all of your weight off the ground. Your body should create a straight, plank-like figure. Create a neutral (flat) spine by tilting your pelvis forward.

Step 2: Engage your abdominals, glutes, and thigh muscles. Your butt and hips should stay in this same line, making sure not to sag or rise beyond the level. Do not round your shoulders; maintain this position throughout while looking straight down at your hands.

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"Holding the plank until failure (until you can't maintain the position any longer) is the best way to increase your strength," says Wood, "but that doesn't mean you should only do one long plank hold." Instead, Wood advises holding the plank for as long as you can, but repeating the process ten times, just like you would with any set in the gym. To progressively improve your strength, stability, and mobility, Wood gave us a sampler of his favorite plank variations that you should include in your workouts. "These simple changes to the basic plank will not only make your core stronger and improve your overall health," Wood stated. "They'll also improve your efforts while in motion like running, playing sports, or biking."

Wood's Plank Variations You Need to Try:

  • Plank with arm raise: From the basic plank position previously described, raise one arm off the floor so your fingers are pointing straight ahead with your palm facing inward. Your arm should not go above your shoulders, which must maintain a straight line with your body.
  • Plank with leg raise: Lift one leg off the ground so it creates a parallel line with the floor. Keep the leg straight with no bend in your knee and point your toes away.
  • Plank with leg and arm raise: Raise your left leg and right arm together (as described) and alternate with the opposite side.
  • Plank with leg and arm raise with crunch: As previously described, raise alternating legs and arms, but before returning to the plank position, crunch your leg (with bended knee) and arm (with bended elbow) into your torso and hold for a one count.