The Single Best Core Exercise for a Small Waist

Who wouldn’t want a smaller, tighter waist? But for that to happen, we are shown a barrage of ab exercises. But, looks can be deceiving. In the world of exercise, where movement is king, would you be shocked to learn that the core and postural muscles (surrounding your waistline) respond to isometric tension exercises extremely well? It’s true! I’m referring to the single best core exercise of all: planks. Planks look too simple, right? So, therefore weighted crunches or leg raises just must be more effective exercises, right?  WRONG!

Ever done planks? What’s the longest you can last with perfect, flat, rigid form? Did you know that the World Record in an abdominal plank position (for a man) is 8 hr 15 min 15 sec, and was achieved by George Hood (USA) in Naperville, Illinois, USA, on 15 February 2020. Hood is a 60-year-old veteran who served in the Marines and is a retired DEA agent. And, one of his students Dana Glowacka, is the World Record holder for the female title. She held a plank for a whopping 4 hours, 19 minutes, and 55 seconds! I can’t even imagine! Hard as buzzard lips they are!

Planks are key cornerstone in anyone’s program, and well see why in a second – but at the top of the list is that the plank works your abdominal muscles in a way like to other and can shrink the circumference of your waist like no other exercise. Planks should be the mainstay of your abdominal trimming and toning exercise program, even more than crunches! They are also one of the most time efficient, and effective exercises which yield substantial results quickly, and burn more calories than any other single ab exercise because so many muscles are activated.

We’ll look at 7 benefits to doing planks, but first let’s do a quick refresher on our abdominal and core muscles:

Rectus Abdominus: Located in the front of the abdomen, the most well-known and visible abdominal creating the “six pack”. They flex or crunch the abdomen. This is the muscle everybody likes to work and show off.

External abdominal oblique: Located on the side and front of the abdomen. The muscle fibers run on a downward and inward direction. This muscle works in side-bending and rotation.

Internal abdominal oblique: Located underneath the external obliques and the fibers run in the opposite direction. This muscle works in side-bending and rotation (in the opposite direction of the external oblique on the same side).

Transversus abdominus: Located under both obliques, and is the deepest of the abdominal muscles. It wraps all the way around your waist for injury protection, dynamic balance and stability. Think if it as the body’s built in girdle – and is the one that planks work so well!

Spinal Erectors, quadratus lumborum: The muscles in the back and around your spine (the erectors are like thick cables along the lower back.

Glutes: One of the most powerful muscle groups in the body for hip extension and pelvis stabalization, the glutes (maximus, medius and mininus) are activated strongly during planks.

1) Doing planks will shrink your waistline. As the transversus abdominus gets stronger from doing planks, it will tighten your waistline all the way around in a way that crunches never could.

2) Planks work quickly and efficiently. For a relatively small time investment, substantial results can be obtained quickly in strength and holding times.

3) Planks activate all core muscles. No other core exercise does this as well or as efficiently as planks.

4) Planks burn more calories than other core exercises and keeps your metabolism burning calories longer, even when sedentary. Because of the large number of muscle groups activated, planks gobble up the calories and activate the metabolism.

5) Planks decrease the risk of injury and can reduce low back pain. Stronger core and postural muscles offer much more stability to the low back, resulting in less stress on intervertebral discs and spinal joints.

6) Planks improve posture. All postural muscles get a workout, lower back, mid back, upper back, neck and shoulder girdle. Daily planks can reverse the round shouldered tendencies that hours of sitting creates.

7) Planks improve balance. Postural muscles are responsible for balance, and planks make them stronger.

8) Planks improve flexibility. As planks enhance the strength balance between the postural muscles, ranges of motion are increased, and few exercises stretch the plantar fascia and arches in feet like planks.

9) Planks boost mood and endorphins. Planks help reduce stress hormones, calm the brain and boost mood (not to mention decrease anxiety and reduce depression).

10) Planks build stronger bones and joints. Muscular tension increases bone density and strengthens connective tissue, the cornerstone of joint health.

The most common version of the plank is with the upper torso being supported by the forearms and elbows. That said, there are other versions, some easier, some much more difficult:

• Basic plank – supported by elbows and forearms
• Push up position plank – with arms locked straight
• Knee plank – with weight on the knees instead of feet
• Leg raised plank – where one leg is lifted (alternate sides at 30 second intervals)
• Side plank (on elbow) – keep the body rigid, supported on foot and elbow with the torso rotated 90 degrees from the basic plank.
If you get really good, there are one arm versions, variations to straight arm positions, and clapping planks if you are superfit.

Don’t overthink it. This is about a simple an exercise as there is and you can do it anywhere. Just try it.
Increase your time gradually. Two minute holds for sets of four or five is excellent, but as the world records attest, the sky is the limit (almost).
Do planks every day, any time to get a quick refresh and recharge.
Do multiple times per day (no real warm-ups are necessary).

Of course if you have or have had pelvic floor issues, recently delivered a baby, have prolapsed discs in your back of if there is any pain, stop and consult your doctor. Be smart.  Planks are safe, no impact and spark crazy muscle activation. Whatever versions you do, do them daily, and do them often. You’ll feel better and look better for it!

About the Author: Dr. Tom Deters

Dr. Tom Deters is the former Editor in chief and publisher of Muscle & Fitness magazine and publisher of both FLEX and Men’s Fitness magazines. He has published hundreds of articles and given hundreds of seminars on training, performance nutrition, diet strategy and bodyfat control.

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.