11 Plank Variations for Rock-Solid Abs
Last Updated: Jun 21, 2017
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Cute athlete girl planking on a mat at the gym.
Eight hours and one minute: That’s the world record for longest-held plank! But you don’t have to be a planking superstar (thank goodness!) to get the full-body strengthening benefits that planks provide. And more than just chiseled abs, strengthening your core with planks will help prevent back injuries and help maintain a healthy posture. They’re also easy to learn, and you can do them at home, in your office or while traveling, so there’s no excuse to avoid them! If you’re getting bored with the standard plank, however, here are nine other variations to help break up the monotony.
Cute athlete girl planking on a mat at the gym.
If you’re new to planks (or just haven’t done them in a while), chances are you’ll start to shake when you get tired. But don’t let that intimidate you! Keep holding until you can’t hold your hips up anymore. When they start to drop, stop. Do three sets, holding as long as you can each time. When you can hold it for more than one minute, it’s time to move on to something more difficult. HOW TO DO IT: Get down on the floor and put your elbows and forearms on a comfortable surface. Create a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles. Hold this position without moving.
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Young, sporty girl portrait while planking at the gym.
Mix up the standard plank to make things more difficult. This version requires more core stabilization because you’ll be moving your arms. Once you can do at least 10 reps with each arm, move on to a more advanced variation. HOW TO DO IT: Start in a plank, then slowly reach one arm forward until your elbow is straight. Pause for one second, and then pull that arm back and plant your elbow so that you’re in the basic plank again. Alternate arms with each rep, and do as many reps as possible on each side.
Attractive, athlete girl resting on a mat at the gym.
Unlike the reaching plank, with this variation you’re trying to balance on one arm and one leg for as long as possible. This is a very challenging exercise, because you’ll need lots of balance and strong arms and legs to hold yourself up. HOW TO DO IT: Start in a standard plank. Reach your right arm forward until your elbow is straight. Now lift your left leg off the ground, keeping your knee straight. Hold this position as long as you can, and then switch sides (left arm reaches forward and right leg goes up).
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Incorporate your upper body with this variation. Bonus: This version can help you learn how to do a proper push-up. HOW TO DO IT: Start in push-up position and lower one elbow/forearm to the ground. Then move the other hand down so that both forearms are flat on the ground. Pause, and then take the arm that went down first and plant that hand on the mat. Push yourself up on that side. Then take the other arm, plant your hand and push yourself back up to the top position of a push-up. On the next rep, switch the arm that goes down first. Do five reps going down with the right arm first and five reps going down with the left arm first.
PLANK KETTLEBELL SLIDE
The real challenge of this variation comes from holding yourself in a plank using only one arm. HOW TO DO IT: Grab a relatively light kettlebell and set it next to you. Get into a plank with the kettlebell on the outside of your left elbow. Reach your right hand behind your left elbow to grab the kettlebell. Drag the kettlebell all the way across your mat and place it outside of your right elbow. Place your right elbow down on the mat. Repeat with the left hand.
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For this exercise you’re basically going to perform a sliding plank, so you’ll need something to put under your feet. You can use hand towels on a hardwood floor or buy sliding discs to use on carpet. The key to this exercise is to keep your hips in the same position while you pull yourself up; don’t let them drop! HOW TO DO IT: Put the sliders or towels under your feet and get into a plank. Slowly slide your body backward while maintaining a straight line from your head to your feet. Slide back as far as you can with good form, and then pull yourself back using your arms.
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BEGINNER SIDE PLANK
Now it’s time to target your obliques with a side plank. Start off with this beginner variation to build up your strength before progressing to the full version. HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your side, propped up on one elbow and bend your knees so that your feet are behind you. Lean on your elbow and push your hips up toward the ceiling. It may help to have a mirror in front of you for this exercise because you’ll want to make sure that your body stays in a straight line. Keep your hips pushed forward far enough so that you can’t see your knees if you try to look down at them.
Once you’ve mastered the beginner side plank, progress to this full version. You’ll feel the burn all down the side of your abdomen. HOW TO DO IT: Start lying on your side and propped up on one elbow. Your elbow should always be directly under your shoulder to avoid putting too much pressure on your shoulder. Your legs should be straight with your feet stacked one on top of the other. Pop your hips up off the ground. Make sure that your hips are pushed forward. The goal is to be as straight as possible, and then to hold that position for as long as you can. Once you can hold a side plank for 20 seconds on both sides, you can move to a harder version.
Related: Join LIVESTRONG.COM’s 30-Day Ab Challenge
SIDE PLANK LEG RAISE
This version of the side plank strengthens your hips and the rest of your core, which will help prevent back injuries and make your side-to-side movements stronger. HOW TO DO IT: First, get into the standard side plank position. Once you’re settled, lift the top leg with your knee straight. Hold that position for as long as possible, with your leg as high as possible. Come down and switch sides.
SIDE PLANK CRUNCH
If you’re having trouble with this advanced side plank variation, try doing it with your back to the wall. If you feel your butt rubbing the wall, it means your hips need to come forward. HOW TO DO IT: Start in a side plank and drop your hips down as close to the floor as possible, then raise them straight up to the ceiling as high as possible. Keep moving from low to high for as many reps as you can, then switch sides. While you’re moving your hips up and down, keep your arm on the floor and your feet in the same place. Avoid moving your hips forward and backward; try to move them only straight up and straight down.
Think you've got what it takes to combine standard planks with side planks? Then try out this variation that switches between the two. Both your rectus abdominis (six-pack muscles) and obliques will be feeling this one. HOW TO DO IT: Start in a standard forearm plank. Keeping a straight line from head to toe, slowly roll over onto your right forearm so that you're in a side plank. You can place your left hand on your hip for stabilization if you need to. Then lower back to a standard plank. Hold for a second before rolling over to the other side. Continue alternating sides.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Have you tried all of these plank variations yet? Which one did you think was the most challenging? Are there any other plank variations we missed? Do you think you’ll add any of these to your routine? Leave your questions, suggestions and feedback in the comments section below!
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