From 2008 up to 2009 I used to hold a static plank position for up to 3 minutes on a near daily basis, believing it was one of the most functional, therefore best, exercises I could do for my core. On a side note, I have never done many crunches and sit sit ups or direct ab training in my life, except in my early 20s when I did some Muay Thai for a while.
Now, I don’t any bulging super abs or pretend to pose as a fitness model, but I can clearly see my 6 pack, and I never found my lack of direct ab training to be a problem. Yes, I suck at crunches, big deal. The very thought of having to do 50 crunches is enough to give me DOMS for 3 days and wreck my neck, but funnily enough I can still hold a L-sit any day for 10-15 seconds. Many people who can hold a plank and do 100s of crunches somehow haven’t got the strength to hold a L-sit.
Today, the thought of doing a static plank is like a half forgotten dream, not that it is a bad exercise in itself…
I do not have anything against direct ab training or sit ups, hanging leg raises, crunches and static planks. For some people, these exercises can be relevant. It’s just that for me personally, I don’t see much point. And I do not feel like wasting my time on” exercises I should be doing that I am not doing” because they’re good for you. I need a better reason than that. Admittedly, on very rare occasions, I’ll do pikes on my power wheel, or even some unusual planks variations on the valslides.
I find my core/ abs are challenged enough from a few throws with medicine balls, unilateral exercises, heavy basic lifts and farmers/ suitcase walk.
So anyway, I dropped the planks and their variations a few years ago because basically I didn’t feel they made a difference in my life and performance, and now I have found out some studies that basically come to the same conclusion.
In her book “The first 20 minutes” Gretchen Reynolds, has a small but very interesting chapter on core strength.
She writes that Dr Nesser from Indiana Sate University used to believe that “the firmer the mid section, the better the athlete” . So he tested the idea to find out which athletes out of a football team had the strongest cores through a serie of tests covering strength and strength endurance. Then he measured the sports-specific strength and agility of those athletes in a variety of tasks like 40 m dash, jumps, shuttle runs and such.
What came out of the study was the the guys with the strongest cores “were no better at sports-specific tests than those with feebler midddles”. Dr Nesser was so incredulous that he re-ran the experiment with some collegians who were not athletes.
He had them lunge, crunch and hold different plank positions to assess their core strength and then had them do athletic stuff like sprints, jumps and throws. Once more, the results pointed to the same findings as in the first study.
“there was little correlation at all between robust core muscles and athleticism” says Dr Nesser.
A study of collegiate rowers came to the same conclusion. After an 8 week core focused training program on top of their regular program, performance hadn’t changed at all, although the rowers had all developed great looking abs.
To be fair, she also mentions in her book that novice runners that displayed weak core strength, lowered their 5k performance after a 6 week program compared to novice runners that did not train their midsection.
So, if you’re really weak in your core, it looks like focusing on it for a while will help, but there also seem to be a cut off point where specifically training your core is not going to pay off.
Poliquin writes an opinion shared by many strength coaches. Do Squats For Better, Stronger Abs
Squats are a great exercise for your abdominal muscles and greater core strength means better sports performance. A recent study of Division 1 college football players showed that maximal lower body strength and power as measured by the 1RM back squat was associated most directly with strength in the core muscles (rectus abdominis, pelvic and hip girdle, obliques, and paraspinals).
Researchers in this study point to the uselessness of the plank exercise to train the core for athletes and the general population. The plank (and side plank) is performed in a non-functional static position that is rarely replicated in sports or in daily life, making it useless as a primary component of training.
Take away: Do squats for stronger, better looking abs that will allow you to perform better. For additional ab training, deadlifts are essential, and chin-ups are ideal for abdominal endurance because you must stabilize the body throughout the motion if you do them properly. Push-ups provide adequate static horizontal abdominal training, and glute-ham raises can help strengthen the posterior chain if you have imbalances in the lower back, or hamstrings.
Professor of spine biomechanics, Stuart McGill also points out: “Strongman events clearly challenge the strength of the body linkage (between upper and lower body, aka the core), together with the stabilizing system, in a different way than traditional approaches. The carrying events challenged different abilities than the lifting events, suggesting that loaded carrying would enhance traditional lifting-based strength programs. “
So there you go, remove dead weight from your training program and focus your energy on what you truly need to address.