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When it comes to shaping strong abdominals, research shows that the integrated training you get from hovers and planks is the way to go. But what’s best? Is the hover or the plank the smarter move?


We can thank a guy called Dr Stuart McGill for the popularity of hovers and planks. McGill, a world-renowned lecturer and expert in spine function and injury prevention and rehabilitation, was one of the first to highlight how ab exercises such as crunches lever the spine back and forth creating a lot of intervertebral pressure, which can wear out the spine in the long run. He came up with the idea of training the muscles of the core while holding a spinal neutral position – and so hovers and planks were born.

What’s the difference between a hover and a plank?

The difference between a hover and a plank is simply leverage.


In a hover you are resting on your elbows, and with your trunk relatively parallel to the ground the lever (formed by your trunk and legs) is lengthened out. Your abdominal muscles must work hard as there is a large area of the trunk to support and gravity is pulling a longer lever down to the floor.




Planks are slightly easier. You are up on your hands, so your trunk is angled upwards. This makes the lever slightly shorter, and as a result there is less pressure on the abdominals.


The most important part of setting up a hover, or a plank, is getting spinal neutral and then locking on the muscles of the core so you have a bracing mechanism that keeps your back stable and stops your mid-section from sagging.

This is what you need to remember:

  • Ensure your back is long and straight – with your shoulders, hips and knees or ankles all aligned
  • Keep hips and shoulders square and your butt down. Brace your abs to support your lower back
  • Maintain neutral posture where you have a slight inward curve of the lumbar spine (lower back) and a very slight outward curve of the thoracic spine (upper back)
  • By keeping your eye gaze down towards the hands (on your fists in a hover, or just in front of your fingers in a plank) your neck is safely aligned

TOP TIP: You should feel the load in your core. If you start to feel it more in your lower back, drop to your knees.

The common mistakes to avoid

Hover with hips high.jpg

People often hover with their hips lifted up in the air. When you do this it shortens the lever, which makes the move much easier – and less effective.


Hover with hips dropped.jpg

The other common mistake is a saggy middle. This occurs if you don’t effectively brace the core and lose that neutral spine position.

How long should you hold a hover?

It all depends on the individual. If you’re just starting out, begin on your knees rather than your toes, hold the hover on your knees for ten seconds, have a rest and then repeat 6-8 times.

Once you can complete 10-15 reps with good form, the next step is to lift from your knees and come into a full hover for ten seconds, drop down to your knees to rest and then repeat 6-8 times. You will build endurance by gradually increasing the time you spend in full hover position. Working towards holding a full hover, with a neutral spine and knees off the floor, for two minutes is ideal. If you can manage two minutes you’re doing pretty well and obviously have good postural control.

Of course you can always improve! George Hood is a 60-year-old who recently set a new world record for the longest hover – spending a massive 10 hours, 10 minutes and 10 seconds in a hover position.

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Arm Reach: If you hold hover or plank position but reach your arm out on the diagonal you unload one of your support arms. As a result your obliques have to work harder to keep the trunk square.

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Leg Extension: Extend your right hip out and lift the right foot, keeping your shoulders and hips square to the floor as you take the foot away. With just one foot to balance on your abdominals have to work really hard to keep your pelvis square.

Keen to learn some more alternatives? Check out The Complete Ab Guide to discover the three most effective ab exercises.

Choose a CXWORX workout and you’ll have plenty of opportunity to practice your hovers. Planks and hovers also regular feature other BODYPUMP, LES MILLS GRIT and BODYBALANCE and many more LES MILLS workouts.

Article by Bryce Hastings supplied by Les Mills International