When it comes to strengthening the core (which includes not only your abs and obliques but also your glutes, hips and back) the plank is an exercise that will always get the job done. In fact, recent research by Dr. Stuart McGill found isometric core exercises, like planks, to be far more superior to dynamic core exercises, such as crunches, in terms of muscle activation, improved strength, and stability of the spine in every plane of motion.
Unfortunately, planks have a tendency to get boring and monotonous and, really, the only way to make them more challenging, aside from attempting to stack weight on your back, is to hold the pose longer – leading to even more boring gym time, lame. So, let’s mix it up and add some plank variations to your routine. This will not only stave off boredom, it will also help you hit muscles that the traditional plank may not engage and should leave you with a pretty good burning sensation in that six-pack and lower back region. So, give it a try and pump up your plank by adding a good dose of dynamic movement to a static pose.
Before you get crazy with varying your workout, make sure you can perform a standard plank with proper technique for at least 60 seconds. Support your upper body on your elbows or hands, which should be shoulder-width apart, and your lower body on the balls of your feet. Squeeze your glutes, stabilize your abdomen and straighten your back. Your body should form a straight line from head to heels; avoid dropping your hips toward the ground or lifting your glutes into the air.
Note: These exercises can be performed from a forearm plank position or a push-up plank position. Choose either a couple variations to do each workout (three to four sets of 30-60 seconds), or make a circuit and do each movement for 30 seconds.
Assume the plank position of your choice and simultaneously jump both legs out to the side. Immediately, bring them back to the starting position. In essence, you’re doing a jumping jack with your lower body while your upper body remains in a static plank position.
From the plank position, in a slow controlled manner, bring your right knee toward your right armpit. Pause, and then return to the plank position. Repeat the movement with your left knee. Continue to alternate legs for the duration of your plank.
In the plank position, slowly shuffle your feet to the left as far as possible without breaking form. Hold here for two breaths and then shuffle your feet to the right as far as possible. Pause for two breaths and then repeat the shuffle.
One-Arm Reach Plank
While maintaining plank position, transfer your weight to your right arm and reach to the front with your left hand. Hold the position for two breaths, return to plank, and then reach with your right arm. Continue to alternate arms.
Arm March Plank
If planking from your hands, slowly lower down to your elbows, and then transition back to your hands. If planking from your elbows, simply do the opposite. Continue to “march” your arms up and down for the duration of the plank.
In plank position, lift your left leg a few inches off the floor. Hold for two breaths, lower and then lift your right leg. Continue to alternate legs, as if kicking through water, for the entire plank.
Bird Dog Plank
From the plank position, lift your right arm and left leg, creating a two-point plank. Hold the position for one to two breaths, lower your limbs and repeat with the opposite limbs. Continue to alternate arms and legs.
Secure the plank position of your choice, and then rotate to the left to lift your left arm straight into the air, and ending in a side plank position. Hold here for two breaths, lower back to plank and repeat the rotation to the right. Continue to slowly rotate from side-to-side.
Maintaining plank position, rotate your hips to bring your left knee toward your right armpit. Pause here for a breath before returning to the starting position. Repeat with your right knee and continue to alternate legs for the duration of the plank.
Body Saw Plank
While planking, place your feet on paper plates (actual glider devices exist but why spend money when you don’t have to). Slowly pull your body forward as your feet and plates slide across the floor. Go as far forward as you can without breaking form then repeat the slide toward the back. Continue to “saw” back and forth until time runs out or your core hits the point of complete fatigue.
Alligator Plank Walk
In plank position, begin to walk by moving the opposite hand and foot. Use only your feet and ankles to move your lower body — avoid bending your knees or hips (you will take very tiny alligator steps). As for the upper body, keep your elbows tucked close to your ribs. I’m not going to lie, this one is the most difficult out of the bunch but it’s great for that core – and your coordination.
Got your planks down? Try our 30-day plank challenge!
Model: Shelby Elmore, NASM-CPT