Three Exercises That Beat Boring Planks

The front plank is a popular exercise to promote core stability. Sure, it carries some benefits and there are ways to make it more difficult. Problem is, holding any static position for more than ten seconds is boring! For that reason, most guys in the gym avoid doing them.

Instead of holding a front plank for up to minute or longer, here’s a better option: do something more challenging, hold it for up to ten seconds, and do multiple reps with very short rest in between so that the total time under tension adds up to a minute or longer by the end.

That’s where Ab 45s and the Reclining Field Goal come in to play. These two exercises provide a more intense static contraction than the standard front plank and you don’t need to hold each rep for any more seconds than you have fingers on both hands. In fact, you can use your fingers to count the seconds if you wish!

Ab 45s

I first came across this exercise in the book Underground Secrets to Faster Running by Barry Ross. No matter how strong you think your core is, Ab 45s will humble you! Here’s how you do it.

Lie on your back with your knees bent and hook your feet under something stable that won’t move, like a machine, two heavy dumbbells, or get a training partner to hold your feet down. Try to get your butt as close to your heels as possible. Extend your arms out fully overhead and keep them in line with your torso throughout the set.

Raise your head and trunk up to a 45-degree angle. Make sure to bring your arms along with you, again keeping them fully extended and in line with your torso. Hold that position for a solid 5-second count, then lower back to the floor. Take a breath at the bottom and repeat the process.

Build up to 5 sets of 5 reps with 5-second holds, and gradually work your way up to holding each rep for 10 seconds.

Reclining Field Goal

If starting from the bottom up is too tough, try going from the top down with an exercise I call the Reclining Field Goal.

I discovered this one in Nelson Montana’s e-book, The Bodybuilding Truth. According to Montana, abdominal development is genetically determined, and classic movements such as sit-ups and leg raises are ineffective for the abdominals but extremely effective for the psoas (hip flexor) muscles. Montana believes that the abdominals respond best to contraction, not movement, and are stressed to a much greater degree when attempting to stabilize. You’ll understand what “attempting to stabilize” means once you try the exercise.

Okay, this is how it works.

Sit on the ground with your legs bent to about 90 degrees and your feet flat on the floor. Tuck your chin into your chest, round your back, and grasp the outside of your knees. Now lean back until your arms are straight – make sure to keep your chin tucked in and back rounded while you’re doing this.

Once your arms are fully extended, slowly raise them up until they are pointed directly overhead. If you find it difficult to maintain balance, you can move your feet out a bit to make it easier. The closer your feet are to your hips, the more challenging the exercise is, and vice versa. Work up to 10-12 reps holding each contraction for 5-10 seconds.

This exercise requires no equipment and can be performed anywhere. Drop to the floor right now and give it a shot. I think you’ll be surprised at how challenging it is.

A word of caution: It’s not uncommon to cramp on these isometric exercises. Assuming you’re well hydrated, once you start to struggle, stop! Don’t try to be a hero and listen to your body. If you try to push on, you’ll cramp – that’s your body’s way of forcing you to stop! Take it slow and gradually ramp it up over time.

Superman Back Extension

A great antagonist movement for both Ab 45s and the Reclining Field Goal is the Superman Back Extension. Do it on a back hyperextension or glute-ham raise machine.

Just like the abdominal exercises, you’ll extend your arms fully overhead and keep them in-line with your torso throughout the set. Raise your upper body up until it’s parallel to the ground and hold that position for a strict 5-count, then lower back down to the original position. Use the same loading parameters as the Reclining Field Goal.

These exercises are all great finishers. You can pair the ab exercises with the back extension in a superset fashion, or do an ab exercise at the end of one workout and the back extension at the end of the next workout, and keep alternating in that manner. Either way, I think you’ll appreciate the challenge and the results from these unique exercises, and best of all, you won’t be bored!

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