Forget back-aching, neck-cramping crunches and sit-ups! If it’s flat abs you’re after, we’ve got the inside scoop on the best middle-minimizing move: The plank. It’s so easy to perform—you simply hold the “up” portion of a push-up. “The plank engages the deepest abdominal layer, the transverse abdominis, and the obliques, which standard ab exercises don’t target,” says Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D., chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise. And nixing the “down” part of a push-up takes your chest and triceps out of the equation so your abs do all the work, putting a stop to muffin top while also firming your back, butt and shoulders. Ready to sculpt a toned, tight belly—and get a stronger upper body and firmer butt all at the same time? Use our tips to master the move, then try our fun variations. (The basic plank is an all-star ab shaper, but let’s face it: Simply hovering on hands and feet can get a bit boring). All it takes is five minutes a day!
Plank pointers Adjust your arms. Keep them in line with wrists, directly beneath shoulders. Shrug off the urge to hunch your shoulders to ears, which makes the move uncomfy and harder to hold. You want every belly-firming second!
Get in line. Your neck should be long, with a 6-inch distance between your chin and chest. Look a few inches in front of your hands to align head and spine.
Straighten out. A flat back is the key to flat abs. The transverse abdominis engages to stabilize the spine and hold you as stiff as a board. Drop or lift your hips and you let your abs off the hook. Assume the position by mirror, and do a form check.
Mix it up! Try any (or all) of our speedy sculpting planks to make your middle little in no time, courtesy of Lisa Wheeler, national creative manager of group fitness for Equinox in New York City. All you need is a hand towel and five minutes (even two minutes here, three there) most days to get chiseled. Try one set of 8 reps of all 10 moves, or pick a few and do two sets of 12 reps.
Works: abs, obliques, shoulders, butt, thighs Start in side plank, left palm on floor, right arm extended to ceiling, hips lifted, feet stacked. Hold plank as you tap right foot in front of left (as shown), then behind, for 1 rep. Do reps. Switch sides; repeat.
Works: abs, shoulders, butt, thighs Start in plank with a folded towel under toes. Engage abs as you lift hips and slide feet toward hands, keeping legs straight, so body forms an inverted V (as shown). Return to start for 1 rep. Repeat.
Works: abs, shoulders, triceps Start in reverse plank: wrists under shoulders, fingers forward, legs extended (as shown). Drop hips and swing them back between arms, sliding heels and keeping legs straight. Return to start for 1 rep. Repeat.
Works: abs, shoulders, biceps Start in plank, then bend elbows to bring forearms to floor; move right hand to left elbow and left hand to right elbow. Lift right arm over left, placing it in front of left on floor (as shown), as you walk toes 1 step forward. Repeat with left arm, then reverse move to return to start, for 1 rep. Repeat.
Works: abs, shoulders, butt, legs Start in plank, then lift hips, coming into Downward Dog, as you raise left leg to ceiling and bend left knee behind you, foot flexed (as shown). Return to plank. Switch sides to complete 1 rep. Repeat.
To watch the video of this workout and nab five more waist-whittling variations, go to Self.com/fitness.
Finally, there is a perfect weight loss plan for your personality. SELF's Lose 8 pounds program let’s you choose between a bootcamp trainer and yoga guru who lead you through the slim-down, shape up plan in just four weeks. (Plus, the nutritionist-approved recipes are delicious! No cooking skills required.) The payoff: you’ll erase 8. It’s easy!