Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last five years, you’ve probably heard about the plank — one of the all-time best exercises for strengthening and toning the core.
But let’s get real — no matter how good for you the exercise is, holding a high push-up position for long periods of time can be downright boring. As long as you’ve mastered the form of a basic plank (core tight, no sagging butt or hips pointing toward the sky), there’s no reason you can’t experiment with plank variations. Not only will they keep you from falling asleep mid-workout, they’ll challenge your core and help you achieve the rock hard abs you’ve been working for.
1. Rocking plank
From a high plank position, slowly shift your weight forward as you press through your toes, allowing your shoulders to extend past your palms. Hold for a second, then shift back to start. Continue the slow forward-backward rocking motion for 30 to 60 seconds. A good rule of thumb is if your body starts to shake and you find yourself forfeiting proper form to hold the position longer, it’s time to take a break.
2. Low hip-twist plank
Starting in a low plank position (balancing on your toes and your forearms), check yourself for good form, then start the hip-twist movement. Keeping your body straight and your forearms and feet on the floor, twist your torso over and to the right so your right hip almost touches the floor. Return to center, then twist over and to the left. It’s almost as if your hips are making a rainbow pattern while the rest of your body remains mostly stationary. Aim to twist to each side at least 10 times.
3. Side plank twist and reach
Start in a high side plank with your right hand stacked under your right shoulder and your feet staggered for extra stability so your bottom foot is just in front of your top foot. Keeping your core tight and your hips engaged, reach your left arm up to the sky before bringing your arm down and around, ultimately reaching your left arm under your body as far as you can. Twist back up again, continuing the motion. Aim to perform 10 full twist and reaches per side.
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4. Reverse plank
This is exactly what it sounds like — a full plank, in reverse. Simply sit on the ground, your legs extended, your palms planted directly under your shoulders, just outside of your hips. When you’re ready, tighten your core and press through your palms, lifting your hips upward until your body forms a straight line from heels to head. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds, lower back to start, then do it again, aiming for four sets. Eventually work your way up to hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds per set.
5. Around the world plank
From a high plank position, you’re simply going to extend one appendage at a time, forcing you to constantly shift your weight and tighten your core to maintain your balance. Start by reaching your right arm out to the side, tapping your fingers down, then bringing it back to center. Then reach and tap your right leg, your left leg and your left arm — continuing to perform this “around the world” motion for 45 to 60 seconds.
6. Plank up-downs
You’ve probably seen this one before. It’s a great variation because it not only requires great core strength, but it also burns out your chest, shoulders and triceps.
Starting in a high plank, pick up your right hand, bend your elbow and plant your right forearm on the ground, followed by the left forearm, lowering you to a low plank. Then reverse the movement, picking up your right arm, planting your right palm on the ground, followed by your left palm as you press yourself back to high plank. Continue the motion, switching which side you lead with as you go (so the second full repetition you’d start by placing your left forearm on the ground).
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7. Side plank hip dip
You can perform this one from a high or low side plank. Check your side plank form, making sure your body is forming a straight line from heels to head — your hips should be engaged and lifted. Then, using control, lower your hip straight down toward the floor, stopping just before you touch down. Then, engage your core to lift your hips back to start. Perform for 30 seconds on one side before switching sides.
8. Plank with hip extension
When you want to work your core and your butt, this is the exercise to add to your repertoire. From a high plank position, bend your right knee at a 90-degree angle so the sole of your right foot is pointing toward the ceiling. Keeping your core tight and steady, engage your right buttock and push your heel up as high as you can. With your knee still bent at a 90-degree angle, lower your knee toward the floor and draw it in to your chest (without touching down) before extending your hip again to press your foot to the sky. Perform 30 seconds with one leg before switching sides.
9. Teaser knees
This one starts off feeling easy, but those knees are a tease! The hover action they create will challenge you mentally and physically as the time ticks on.
Start in a high plank with proper form. When you’re ready, bend your knees, keeping your core tight, and lowering them toward the floor without actually allowing them to touch down. Hover for three seconds with your core tight and your knees just off the ground before re-extending your knees and returning to high plank. Hold for three seconds before continuing the hover-plank-hover-plank action.
10. Chaturanga plank
This one will kill your core, your chest and your triceps — so, don’t expect to be able to hold it as long as a traditional plank.
Start in a high plank position, checking your form. When you’re ready, bend your elbows, keeping them close to your sides, as you lower your body toward the floor. When your elbows are bent at a 90-degree angle and your chest is just a few inches from the ground, stop and hold the position, aiming for 10 to 20 seconds. Repeat three to five times. You can also perform this exercise with your knees on ground.
11. Plank jacks
To add a little cardio to your core workout, you can’t go wrong with plank jacks. These are exactly what they sound like — jumping jacks done while holding a plank. You can start in a high or low plank, with your body forming a straight line, your core tight and your feet close together. Then, in a single movement, hop both feet out to the sides, tightening your core to “catch” yourself and prevent your back from swaying. Then, hop your feet right back in again. Continue the in-and-out action for 30 to 60 seconds.
12. Power plank with baby push-up
Think of this as a baby step to performing a clapping push-up. You won’t actually perform a full push-up, and you won’t actually be “hopping” your hands off the ground, but you’re going to get close.
Start in a high plank with good form. When you’re ready, bend your elbows and lower yourself only about an inch or two, then forcefully press through both palms simultaneously as if you were trying to hop them off the ground — but instead, just allow the heels of your palms to lift slightly while keeping your fingers on the ground. With your core remaining tight, catch yourself with slightly bent “soft” elbows and immediately perform the exercise again. Aim for two sets of 12 to 15 reps. This powerful, plyometric plank will help improve upper body power — something that’s particularly helpful for athletes.