The Plank is a fairly basic exercise meant to hone your core strength and stabilization. The Plank is typically used by coaches and athletes as a great baseline for how to approach people’s core exercise programs.
The key aspect is to keep your body – heel to shoulder – as straight as possible. I always focus on progressing my clients through various forms and have an order I try to put them through. What I have assembled here in descending order from easiest to most difficult in that progression. There are surprisingly several varieties, so if you have the plank as part of your workout and would like a change-up, here are literally a dozen ways to do just that!
Here, it is the most basic form of a plank. For this list, I am using planks specifically on forearms, instead of being on your hands. The reason being is the changing of the angle, being more flat makes it more difficult as more weight is shifted over your core and less over your legs. Not fully intending to repeat myself, you want to make sure your body forms a straight line from heel to shoulder.
2. Side Plank (Shifting)
To get your obliques a bit more involved, try the Side Plank. Start on your side with your forearm on the ground, try to once again keep your body, heel to shoulder as straight as possible and hold it. Make sure to hit each side. If you can do this without issue and wish to test yourself, shift from a Side Plank on one side to front, forearm Plank and into a Side Plank on the other side.
3. Reach Plank
If you feel you have or wish to have strong shoulders, the Reach Plank is for you. Test your balance first by starting in a Forearm Plank and lift one arm forward out in front of you. If this is easy, use a dumbbell. If you’re using dumbbells, start low to check your balance and increase weight from there.
4. Plank Wiper
This will require some kind of object that allows you to easily slide along the floor. Here at Xperience Fitness, we have gliders available to use. If you’re doing these at home, the same concept can be accomplished with a paper plate. Start in a Plank with a glider on one foot, swing your leg out to the side (imagine a windshield wiper) and back to its original position. Make sure to try to keep the rest of your body straight.
5. Plank Jacks
All the core stabilizing of a Plank and all the cardio of a Jumping Jack, the Plank Jack is a great way to involve core in your cardio routine and keep your heart rate up! Start in a standard Plank and with a small jump, move your feet in and out like you would for a Jumping Jack.
6. Side Plank Leg Raise
Now, we’re starting to get into the difficult range of Plank variations. If you find that your balance is fine with a Side Plank, this will really put it to the test and get your opposite oblique involved even more. Start in a Side Plank and slowly raise your leg up and lower it back down. The goal is to have as little wobble as possible – control is key!
If you’re looking for a good ab exercise for your arm day, then lucky number 7 for you. You’ll find this hits your core a bit harder than your arms, but if your arms are already tired, this might just exhaust them, so save them for the end. Start in a Forearm Plank, shift just slightly onto one side and extend your arm to put your palm on the ground. Shift your weight onto the now extended arm side and bring your opposite arm up to the same position. Carefully, bring the first arm back onto your forearm and follow with the opposite – repeat for either how many times you go both up and down or time – your choice.
8. Sliding Plank Crunch
This will also require a glider, but just one, unless you wish to alternate each rep. It’s a great use of lower abs and obliques targeting a specific side. Start in The Forearm Plank position and on the side that has the glider, you want to bring your knee up and slightly to the outside as far up as you feel you can and then back to the Forearm Plank position. (I wouldn’t suggest bringing them straight forward as this might cause your knees to rub against the floor.)
9. Plank Crunch
Now they’re gonna start to get hard and require good balance to execute. The Plank Crunch (sans glider) will be much harder than its predecessor. Start in the Forearm Plank, shift your weight onto one side and lift both your knee and arm off the ground. Touch your knee to your elbow and place them back in position. Try to take this one slow, because if you go too fast, you might end up falling back; it won’t be far, but still.
10. Plank Switch
This one is much harder than it looks, trust me.
Start in the Forearm Plank and shift your weight to one side. Lift your arm up and the goal is to point your elbow up straight. Make sure to control yourself back down. Follow it by immediately lifting the opposite arm in the same way. And… repeat.
11. Plank Push-Up
This one is perfect for an arm day before switching to Plank-Ups. This puts far more emphasis on your triceps.
Start in a Forearm Plank with your palms on the floor. (It Might be best to have your elbows tucked down a bit more for this.) Now comes the hard part – push up with your arms like you’re doing a push-up until your arms are fully extended and then control yourself back down.
12. Plank Pistons
So here, it is, the hardest one I have for you today. They’re called Pistons because of the rapid alternating motion required. This will also require some flexibility to pull off. But, as expected with its difficulty, the benefit is much better, utilizing your entire core: upper and lower abs with great oblique action. Start in the Forearm Plank position and keeping both feet together, bring them up and to the outside, making sure your inside leg is to the outside of your hip (this lets you know you’re going out far enough) and jump back to the starting position. Then do the same on the other side. REPEAT!
So there you have it; a dozen ways to improve your core and test your strength, stability, and flexibility in a progressive manner. I know you must be excited to add one if not all of these to your own workout (core is the best part of the workout in my opinion). So, I won’t keep you any longer.
There used to be a societal challenge called “planking”, and while that was short-lived (thankfully), this Plank Challenge is one that you can use to benefit yourself and others.