Are planks effective for building nice abs?

I've tried a few basic positions and the idea of holding a position for as long as I can, and having a workout for my abs and core areas, is pleasing, compared to dreadful sit-ups / crunches that make my neck so tired.

Can planks be as effective for building flat abs / 6-pack, like crunches and sit-ups are?

If so, I rather do a couple minutes of planks everyday ...

But I'm guessing there are diminishing returns with planks ...

  • 1
    If your neck hurts during any abdominal exercise, you're doing it wrong.
    – JohnP
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 13:46

2 Answers 2


The main function of the rectus abdominus is to curl the torso forward. Contrary to popular belief and method, bending at the hips works hip/leg flexors, with minimal involvement to the abdominal muscle.

For growth, you need to stress the muscle as you would any other, with progressive overload in the hypertrophy range for sets/reps. To start, you can do bodyweight exercises such as traditional crunches and hanging leg curls. (For the curls, the initial part will work the hip flexors, then the final curl up works the abs.)

You need to maintain a fairly neutral spine, and avoid curling your neck or putting your hands behind your neck/head to "pull" yourself up. These will lead to the neck pains you are describing.

Also, do not neglect the other core muscles. Obliques are the muscles responsible for rotation of the torso, and the lower back muscles are worked by extension type exercises. All of these together need to be worked, or you risk imbalance that causes back pain as other muscles try to compensate.

  • "The main function of the rectus abdominus is to curl the torso foward." This isn't true. The main function is to create proximal stiffness. Listen for example to Stuart McGill discuss this topic on this podcast strongfirst.com/podcast-episode-17-dr-stu-mcgill go to 54:45 to get the exact quote.
    – Chris
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 23:20
  • @Chris listened to it. I get what he's saying, but he is basically dismissing decades of accepted physiology. I think it does assist in the way he is saying, but that (at least in my learning) isn't the foremost function.
    – JohnP
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 2:17
  • I'll let you and Stuart McGill sort this out. Keep in mind that McGill has published something like three hundred research papers, including award winning papers, and three books, including a text book on lower back pain. Professional sports teams hire him for consultations. He is getting be older now, and he doesn't travel like he used to, but when he used to travel, it would cost somethign like $500 just to hear him speak.
    – Chris
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 4:25
  • @Chris OK. Doesn't mean his interpretation trumps reality. It originates on the pubis and inserts on the lower ribs. Vertical muscle that when it shortens, brings ribcage towards pelvis, vice versa or both if neither is fixed position. It also braces for breathing, coughing, stabilization in deadlifts, etc. He may feel that stabilization better works the muscle than crunches, but that is just an interpretation. I will still go with the established kinesiology to date.
    – JohnP
    Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 15:56

Since building a sixpack will require some muscle growth, I'd argue that neither are effective. You'll be at a point where you can do dozens of sit-ups very quickly, which might be fine for the endurance of your abs, but won't help growth very much. Same for holding 3 mins of planck. Fine, but not very helpful on your way towards a sixpack.

While not having a sixpack myself, I'd think that you'll have to implement some kind progressive overload for a sixpack, while staying in the range of 8-12 reps (hypertrophy). If you're in a gym, you might look at cable crunches, which is a loaded version of crunches, which you'll be able to adapt to your abilities. If you have access to weight plates, you could also do weighted sit-ups.

To some extent, standing barbell presses might have an effect, too, since they require a strong core to stabilize.

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