Your arms are shaking. Your stomach muscles ache. If you have to hold just one more second of this move you think you might collapse. But after months of taking your go-to cardio and yoga classes, you see a big difference in your push-up and plank form and can push each rep to last a few seconds longer. Which move “would you rather” — the rhythmic push-up or ever-steady plank?
When done correctly, push-ups will target the chest, shoulders, arms and core muscles, which stabilize the spine and connect the vertebrae. To execute a push-up, imagine yourself as a straight line parallel to the ground with your hands positioned flat about shoulder distance apart. Look slightly forward and bend your arms as close to a 90-degree angle as possible. You can replicate this movement in a variety of ways, like leaning on a wall or placing bent knees on the floor. These variations allow you to customize the exercise to fit your level of strength.
Unlike planks, push-ups provide both concentric and eccentric movement, meaning your muscles contract for part of the exercise then lengthen for the second part while still bearing weight. However, this movement could create too much resistance on your hands or arms. A push-up is similar to bench-pressing your body weight, so if you aren’t strong enough to handle a standard push-up, consider trying one of its many variations. Listening to your muscles rather than pushing beyond what your body is comfortable with will lead to better, safer results. Over time, you’ll not only build muscle, but performing this weight-bearing exercise will also help reduce bone loss and promote stronger, denser bones and joints.
If you want to target your core, look no further than the plank. In addition to working towards a rock-hard stomach, you’ll also target your shoulders, chest, back, glutes and quad muscles. Start in a similar position as a push-up, then work down to rest on your elbows and forearms. Your body should be in a straight line, but unlike the push-up, you won’t place a heavy amount of weight on your wrists. Practice holding your plank as long as possible without your back sagging or lifting. You might start out at just 20-second intervals and work your way to one-minute long sessions (and that’s okay!). As you become more comfortable, practice side planks by transferring your weight to one arm and then the other.
Over time, these muscles will strengthen to provide support to your entire body during everyday movements, improve your posture and boost your balance. Because the plank exercise requires minimal movement while contracting all layers of the abs, the act of strengthening your core will, in turn, help reduce low back pain.