Ask the Expert: Are Planks or Sit-Ups Better for Abs?

We asked personal trainer Parker Cote.

Welcome to our Ask the Expert series, in which our panel of health experts answers your wellness questions. Here, trainer Parker Cote talks all things abs. Got a question of your own? Email


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Are planks or sit-ups better for working your abs?—S.C., Cambridge


Carve out some extra time on your mat, because you’ll need to do both.

Cote says sit-ups—and similar exercises such as crunches, leg raises, and reverse crunches—work your rectus abdominis, or the muscle we colloquially know as abs. Cote calls these “the six-pack muscles” because, when your body fat is low enough, they’re what shows beneath your skin.

“Regardless of your goal, it is important to include exercises that work the rectus abdominis because those exercises will strengthen the abdominal muscles and help build the abdominal structure,” Cote says.

But sit-ups and crunches aren’t all it takes to build a strong core. You also need to work your transverse abdominis, the layer of muscle deep within your abdominals that’s “responsible for stabilization of the torso and back,” Cote says. That’s where planks, and moves like dead bugs and bird dogs, come in. They work your deep abs as well as your low back, boosting functional strength and stability. (It can’t hurt to also work your obliques, or the sides of the core, through exercises including side planks, hip dips, and twists.)

“For a combination of functionality, strength, and aesthetics,” Cote says, “I recommend including variations of both exercises in your routine. “

Parker Cote

About the Expert: Parker Cote is a personal trainer and the owner of Parker Cote Elite Fitness. As a fitness model, Parker has appeared on 24 magazine covers across the globe. He has also been featured in more than 250 magazines including Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, GQ, Cosmopolitan, ESPN, and Maxim, and on the Today Show with Kathie Lee and Hoda. He is a writer and fitness expert for Men’s Fitness, and has written dozens of articles for major fitness publications worldwide.

He is passionate about teaching clients how to make fitness a fun part of their lives. His goal as a trainer is to help people experience the benefits of a fit and healthy lifestyle while maintaining balance in all aspects of life. He has certifications from the National Academy of Sports Medicine and the International Sports Sciences Association.

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