Members of the United States Marine Corps will no longer be required to pump themselves through rep after rep of crunches when they undertake the branch’s notorious Physical Fitness Test (PFT). The exercise will be dropped completely in favor of the plank as the new standard to gauge core strength and fitness, according to Task & Purpose. The plank was first introduced to the PFT as an alternative to crunches in 2020, meaning participants can currently choose to take on either the crunches or the planks for their test. The PFT also consists of pullups or pushups and a timed three-mile run.
The shift to planks won’t be made overnight. The guidance to change the test, which came from an administrative message authorized by Lieutenant General Lewis A. Craparotta, who serves as the Commanding General, Training and Education Command, states that the plank will become the mandatory core exercise in 2023. The delay to totally drop crunches gives Marines and recruits enough time to train prepare for the plank.
The standards to pass for the exercise will shift in 2022 to a hold of 1 minute and 10 seconds at the low end (up from the current 1 minute and 3 seconds) and a hold time of 3 minutes and 45 seconds to achieve the maximum score (down from the current 4 minutes and 20 seconds).
This change to the test wasn’t made on a whim. Planks were added after research showed that crunches weren’t the best way to gauge the physical readiness the Corps required—and were potentially putting in a potentially risky position. “For decades, the Marine Corps has used crunches to both improve and assess abdominal endurance,” says an article published by the Marines Human Performance Office. “However, research has shown that crunches with the feet restrained require significant hip flexor activation. This has been linked to an increased risk of injury, including lower back pain due to increased lumbar lordosis.”
What’s more, the USMC brass found that the plank was a better test for their purposes. “The plank’s isometric hold requires constant muscle activation, activates almost twice as many muscles as the crunch, and has been proven to be most reliable in measuring the true endurance required for daily activity function,” the statement reads. “With increased core strength, Marines are less likely to experience injury or fatigue during functional tasks like hiking, lifting and low crawling.”
This is a smart move by the USMC—but remember, you might have different goals for your planks than a member of the Marines. While they’re training for this very specific test that is meant to gauge endurance, most people are likely using planks in their workouts to build core strength and stability and to sculpt their abs. For the best results, you should probably aim to hit the bottom end of the USMC scoring and hold the plank position for about a minute at a time. Instead of aiming for marathon holds, focus on keeping your muscles engaged and your body in perfect position to make the most of the movement.
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