5 Plank Variations That Will Challenge Your Core

By K. Aleisha Fetters |

Improve your strength and stability with these simple twists on the traditional move.

plank variations

Love them or hate them, planks are a great tool for training your core, which includes anything that isn’t an arm, leg, neck, or head. Conveniently, they strengthen your arms and legs too.

But if you’re sticking to the standard style with hands and feet on the floor, you’re missing out on some truly transformative movements.

Keeping your core strong is one of the best things you can do for your health as you get older, says Ryan Campbell, a training specialist at Anytime Fitness of Southern Wisconsin.

A strong core means you’re less likely to get injured as you go about your daily routine, he adds. You’ll also enjoy enviable posture and better balance.

“The key is performing planks that challenge the body from multiple angles,” he says. “They should involve not just holding, but also moving through multiple planes of motion.”

And that means you’ve got to mix it up from time to time. To help you take your plank routine to the next level, we’ve rounded up five unique variations that will challenge—and strengthen—your entire body.

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How to Use These Exercises

To get the greatest benefits, perform each move with what Campbell calls maximal total-body tension. What this means: Squeeze your glutes, brace your core as if you’re about to be punched in the gut, pinch your shoulder blades down and back so they’re away from your ears, and tighten every muscle. Even though you’re squeezing your body, don’t hold your breath.

Start with just one variation, performing it for at least 30 seconds with good form. If you need to break it up, go for as long as you can, rest, and repeat until you reach 30 seconds total. When you’re able to perform the first variation for 30 seconds, move to the second exercise. Keep going until you’ve mastered all five.

As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition (including osteoporosis), an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

Can’t get down on the floor? Check out this 10-minute seated core workout.

Variation #1: Bent-Arm Plank

Hold for 30 seconds

How to do it: Lie on your stomach with your elbows directly underneath your shoulders and forearms flat on the floor. Focus your eyes between your hands.

From here, lift your hips toward the ceiling until your body forms a straight line from head to ankles. Hold for 30 seconds, or as long as you can with good form.

Make it easier: Do the move with your knees on the floor, and lift your hips so your body forms a straight line from head to knees.

Variation #2: Side Plank

Hold for 30 seconds per side

How to do it: Lie on your left side with your legs extended and feet stacked. Prop your upper body up on your left forearm with your elbow bent and directly underneath your shoulder.

From here, raise your hips so your body forms a straight line from head to ankles. Rest your right hand on your left shoulder or your right hip. Hold for 30 seconds, or as long as you can with good from. Repeat on the opposite side.

Make it easier: Do the move with your knees bent and your bottom knee on the floor. Lift your hips so your body forms a straight line from head to knees.

Variation #3: Low-Box Hand Taps

Alternate hands for 30 seconds

How to do it: Place a step bench at the top of your mat. If you’re at home, you can use a row of thick books or simply imagine a low step in front of you.

Begin in a high plank with your fingertips just in front of the step bench. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart, your hands directly underneath your shoulders, and your body in a straight line from head to ankles.

Slowly and with control, tap the top of the bench with one hand, and lower it back to starting position. Repeat with your other hand. As you move your hands, your body should stay in a line without your hips sagging or rising. Continue alternating for 30 seconds, or as long as you can with good form.

Make it easier: Do the move with your knees on the floor, making sure your body is in a straight line from head to knees.

Variation #4: Shoulder Taps

Alternate hands for 30 seconds

How to do it: Begin in a high plank with your feet about shoulder-width apart, your hands directly underneath your shoulders, and your body in a straight line from head to ankles.

Slowly and with control, lift one hand to touch your opposite shoulder, and lower it back to starting position. Repeat with your other hand. The goal here is to keep your back flat and your midsection still—only your hands and forearms should be moving. Continue alternating for 30 seconds, or as long as you can with good form.

Make it easier: Do the move with your knees on the floor, making sure your body is in a straight line from head to knees.

Variation #5: Plank Walkup

Alternate positions for 30 seconds

How to do it: Begin in a bent-arm plank with your elbows directly underneath your shoulders and forearms flat on the floor.

Slowly and with control, step one hand back underneath your shoulder, pushing up to straighten your arm. Repeat with your other hand until you’re in a high plank.

Pause, then lower your forearms one at a time to return to starting position. Continue alternating between bent-arm plank and high plank for 30 seconds, or as long as you can with good form.

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