If there’s one abs exercise you should incorporate into your weekly regime, it’s the plank. That’s because it’s an incredible all-rounder that works the rectus abdominis (the muscles making up your ‘six pack’), the obliques and the hip flexors (responsible for that all-desirable V-shape below your navel). You may be just starting out and aiming to hold the plank for a full minute, or you may have been planking for years and ready to increase the challenge. These 10 variations will keep your body guessing and ensure you never get bored. (And if you do get bored, you’re not working hard enough!)
Everyone can benefit from going back to basics and revisiting good technique. Good planking practice starts with a strong traditional plank. Concentrate on ‘gluing’ your abs to your ribs and creating a level line from your shoulders to your heels – no lifting your butt in the air! You can rest on your forearms or hands, always keeping your shoulders directly above your point of contact on the floor. Try to lift from the floor rather than pressing into it, and relax in your shoulders so they don’t bunch up around your ears. To reduce the pressure on your lower back, spread your feet wider on the floor. To go harder, decrease your stability by bringing your feet closer together.
To incorporate more of your back and shoulders, start from a traditional plank on your forearms and push from your shoulders so your butt moves towards the ceiling in a downward dog style V. Hold for a second at the top, then return to the start. Perform 10-15 slow, steady reps.
From a traditional plank on your forearms – your leg stance wide – contract your abs really hard as you place one palm on the floor and push up to a high plank one side at a time. Avoid rolling through the hips as much as possible. Lower down (steady now), then do the same on the other side. Aim for 10 reps in total – 5 on each side.
Time to throw off your balance. From either a forearm or high plank, slowly reach foreward with your right arm and up and back with your left leg. Make your spine as long as possible. Hold for 15-30 seconds, then repeat with the opposite arm and leg.
Add 360 degree definition with this oblique-crunching plank. Again, start from a traditional plank with your legs hip width apart and stabilise your body using your core. Then lift your right leg and turn your knee out as you bring it to touch your elbow on the same side. Pause for a moment, then return your leg and repeat all your reps before changing sides. You can also perform this one with a resistance band wrapped around your heel, contracting the glute as you extend the leg back to the start (watch my resistance band workout for full instructions).
Plank with leg lifts
From a forearm plank, feet hip width apart, flex your foot and squeeze your right leg a few inches towards the ceiling. Avoid lifting your hips or sinking in your lower back. Continue pulsing through your right leg until you feel the burn deep into your glutes, then repeat on the other side.
Rock n’ roll plank
This four-dimensional plank sees you move side to side and back to forth to dig deeper into your internal obliques, all while toning your arms and shoulders. Start on your forearms with your heels flexed towards the ceiling, then stay stable through the shoulders as you gently rock your right hip towards the floor, reverse to the left, rock back through your heels, and finally forward over your palms. Return to your stable forearm plank and repeat.
A real shoulder burner, you have to fight even more gravity to keep your core and spine strong with your feet resting on an elevated platform (note – beware swivel chairs!). From this pose, you can even incorporate leg lifts or try lifting one hand at a time to ‘tap’ the opposite shoulder.
Weighted plank (AKA: At-home saucepan plank)
Great for working on your traditional plank technique, with an added challenge for your core. Have a friend place a weight plate or similar flat on the centre of your back as you squeeze your tum really tight and resist any temptation to sink through your spine.
To boost your heart rate and burn more calories, add a plyometric twist to your plank. From a traditional forearm or high plank, your feet touching in the middle, jump your legs as far out as possible then return to the start. Make the movement fast but controlled, staying strong and stable from your hips to your shoulders.
Customise your plank
There are so many ways to vary the plank and combine techniques to keep this amazing move both interesting and challenging. Try get-ups with a plyometric jump. Do the rock n’ roller with one leg lifted. Pause in a leg lift plank to add a hamstring squeeze into every rep. These are just 10 variations to get you started and inspire you to get more creative with your workouts.
Would you like to see variations for other classic workout moves? Let me know which ones in the comments below and I’ll prepare a post just for you!