Plank Variations to Strengthen Your Core
Back in March of 2020, right when the pandemic was starting, a friend asked me if I would join her in a 30-day plank challenge. She had wanted to do this challenge that culminated in a five-minute plank for years but kept giving up after a few days. She figured by getting me on board, she’d stick with the challenge and achieve her goal. Of course, I was going to do the challenge with her – she’s a great friend, and I can’t resist a good challenge! Over the course of the month, we gradually increased the length of time we held a basic plank until we were up to five minutes. That last day, we got on a video call and talked while our core burned for five minutes. We did it!
I learned a few things from that experience:
planks are a really good full-body exercise
five minutes can feel like a really long time
having a strong core has rippling effects throughout your body (and life!) – I was standing up taller and had a little more confidence as I went about my day
everything is easier with a friend
the motivation and accountability of a partner or coach is key to meeting a goal
The benefit of having a strong core goes beyond having a tight, toned tummy. Having a strong core can help prevent back injuries and improve balance, stability, and posture. And planks are one of the best ways to get the job done. They tighten your core, slim your abs, and shape your waistline. Plus, a plank will tone your back, glutes, hamstrings, arms, and shoulders at the same time! That’s a lot of gain for a few minutes of burn. And, planks require no equipment! You can do them while watching Netflix or talking on the phone with a friend. Incorporate some of these plank variations into your day and start noticing results!
Check out the list. We went over to the park with a camera and exercise mat to take some pictures and videos of me doing the different variations (It was a little windy and the grass desperately needs some rain!)
The basic knee or forearm plank is a great place to start. And once you’ve mastered these beginner plank variations, you can multiply the many benefits of planks by trying one of the more challenging variations below.
To incorporate these into your workout, choose one or more of these plank variations and try to do them for 30-60 seconds. Then, repeat 2-5 times if you can!
Beginner plank variations
These basic planks will form the foundation of all the other moves on this list. Get these down first. As your strength, balance, and endurance improve, move on to the more challenging variations.
How to: Start an all fours and walk your hands forward until your body forms a straight line from your head to your knees. Keep your abs lifting away from the floor and try to be as straight as possible.
How to: Begin on your stomach and place your forearms directly under your shoulders, engage your glutes, triceps, and abs, tuck your toes under, and lift your knees so that your body forms a straight line.
How to: Hold the top of a pushup position, palms directly below shoulders, legs shoulder-width apart straight out behind you, spine neutral, and abs and glutes engaged.
How to: Lie on your left side with legs extended, left elbow directly under your shoulder. Stack right foot on top of left and lift hips and knees off the mat, keeping the side of your left foot and your left forearm and elbow in contact with the ground. Hold the position for 30 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side.
Advanced Plank Variations
Once you’ve nailed the proper plank form, it’s time to have some fun and up your challenge by adding some movement and balance. These variations engage even more muscles and also improve your coordination and endurance.
Plank to downward dog
How to: Begin in the standard plank position and then elevate the hips, making an inverted V or a triangle. Keep the muscles engaged. Once the hips are at the highest point, lower back down to the standard plank position.
Side plank crunches
How to: Start in a side plank on your left forearm with your right arm extended overhead, biceps next to your ear. Then bring your right knee toward your right elbow in a crunch, engaging your obliques as you do.
How to: Start in a forearm plank position. Rotate your hips to one side and lower them toward the floor, then return to the center. Repeat on the opposite side.
Plank with a knee to same-side elbow
How to: Begin in a high plank. Bring the left knee forward to try to touch the left elbow. Return to the starting position and then bring the right knee to touch the right elbow.
Plank with a knee to opposite-side elbow
How to: Begin in a high plank. Bring the left knee across the body to try to touch the right elbow. Return to the starting position and then bring the right knee to touch the left elbow.
Plank with shoulder taps
How to: Begin in high plank. Keep your abs tight and prevent your body from swaying as you lift one arm, bent at the elbow, and cross your hand to your opposite shoulder. Repeat with the other side, alternating.
Side plank thread-through
How to: Begin in side plank. Take your free arm and thread it through the open space underneath you while you rotate your shoulders and hips toward the floor.
Side plank leg lift
How to: Begin in side plank. Keeping your spine lengthened and your abs engaged, lift your top leg up just higher than your top hip. Then slowly lower it back to your bottom leg.
Plank bird dog
How to: Start in a plank position. Lift your right arm out in front of you, and extend your left leg behind you. Bend your elbow and knee, then bring them together to touch underneath your body, then extend back out.
Mountain climbers (add a burst of cardio to your plank!)
How to: Begin in high plank. Pull your right knee into your chest, then your left. Continue alternating, switching legs, pulling one knee out, and bringing the other knee in.
Start slow and build up speed.
Did you know that working out with a personal trainer can actually boost the success rate of achieving your fitness goals by more than 30 percent? So whether you want to get in shape for the summer, lose some weight, or just feel better, reaching your goals can be a lot easier if you’ve got a coach on your side. Contact me for a free consultation to learn how personal training can help you meet your fitness goals.
Disclaimer: Some of these are more advanced, so use your own judgment about whether the move is right for you. Remember, practicing good form is critical in reducing injury and ensuring your body benefits from the exercise. Be sure to consult your physician before starting any new workout program.