11 Plank Variations for Rock-Solid Abs

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Test your unilateral strength with the side plank leg raise.
Image Credit: Cherina Jones/LIVESTRONG.COM

Eight hours, 15 minutes and 15 seconds: 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.

Beyond chiseling your abs, doing planks will strengthen your entire core, which can help prevent back pain and help you maintain proper 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 not do them! If you're getting bored with the standard plank, however, here are 10 other variations to help break up the monotony.

1. Forearm Plank

Start with the standard forearm plank.
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  1. Get down on all fours on the floor and put your elbows and forearms on a comfortable surface (like a mat, towel or carpeted floor).
  2. Extend your legs back behind you and push up into a plank, creating a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles. Keep you neck in neutral alignment by looking at your hands.
  3. Hold this position without moving. Keep your hips level and squared to the ground and don't let your lower back arch.

Tip

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 you can't maintain proper form anymore, 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.

2. Reaching Plank

Reach it out and engage your shoulders.
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  1. Start in a standard forearm plank (see above).
  2. Slowly reach one arm forward until your elbow is straight.
  3. Pause for one second, then pull that arm back and plant your elbow so that you're in the basic plank again.
  4. Alternate arms with each rep, aiming for 10 with each arm. Or do as many reps as you can with good form.

Tip

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.

3. Bird-Dog Plank

Two cute animals, but one tough plank variation.
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  1. Start in a standard forearm plank (see above).
  2. Reach your right arm forward until your elbow is straight. At the same time, lift your left leg off the ground, keeping your knee straight.
  3. Hold this position a second, then lower your arm and leg into a plank again.
  4. Switch sides so that the left arm reaches forward and right leg goes up.
  5. Alternate arms and legs as long as you can with good form.

Tip

Unlike the reaching plank, with this variation you have to balance on one arm and one leg. This is a very challenging variation, and you’ll need lots of balance and strong arms and legs to hold yourself up.

Can't hold this variation without wobbling your hips? Start with the standard bird-dog (drop to your knees instead of being in a full plank) and lift your opposite arm and leg from there.

4. Plank Walk-Down

Make sure to alternate which arm you start with.
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  1. Start in a high plank (the top of a push-up) so that you support yourself on your hands and toes, body forming a straight line from head to heels.
  2. Lower one elbow/forearm to the ground.
  3. Then move the other arm down so that both forearms are flat on the ground.
  4. Pause, then take the arm that went down first and plant that hand on the mat. Push yourself up on that side.
  5. Then take the other arm, plant your hand and push yourself back up to the top position of a push-up.
  6. 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.

Tip

If you're rotating too much in the hips, move your feet out a bit wider to give you a better base of support.

5. Plank Kettlebell Drag

The real challenge of this variation comes from holding yourself in a plank using only one arm.
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  1. Grab a relatively light kettlebell and set it next to you.
  2. Get into a plank with the kettlebell on the outside of your left elbow.
  3. Reach your right hand behind your left elbow to grab the kettlebell.
  4. Drag the kettlebell all the way across your mat and place it outside of your right elbow.
  5. Place your right elbow down on the mat.
  6. Repeat with the left hand.

6. Body Saw Plank

The body saw plank is an intense variation — it won't take long to feel the burn!
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  1. Put sliders or towels under your feet and get into a forearm plank.
  2. Slowly slide your feet backward while maintaining a straight line from your head to your feet. Only slide back as far as you can with good form.
  3. Pull yourself back using your arms.

Tip

For this exercise, you’re basically performing 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!

7. Modified Side Plank

Start here to strengthen your side plank.
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  1. Lie on your side, propped up on one elbow and bend your knees so that your feet are behind you.
  2. Lean on your elbow and push your hips up toward the ceiling.
  3. Keep your hips pushed forward far enough so that you can't see your knees if you try to look down at them.

Tip

Start off with this beginner variation to build up your oblique (side of your torso) strength before progressing to the full version. 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.

8. Side Plank

Progress to the full side plank version.
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  1. 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.
  2. Pop your hips up off the ground. Make sure that your hips are pushed forward. The goal is to be as straight as possible.
  3. Hold this position for as long as you can with good form.

Tip

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. Once you can hold a side plank for 20 seconds on both sides, you can move to a harder version.

9. Side Plank Leg Raise

Test your unilateral strength with the side plank leg raise.
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  1. Get into the standard side plank position (see above).
  2. Once you're settled, lift the top leg with your knee straight.
  3. Hold for one second, then lower back down to the start.
  4. Aim for 10 total reps before lowering down and switching sides.

10. Side Plank Hip Drop

Add some motion with the side plank hip drop.
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  1. Start in a side plank (see above) with your elbow under your shoulder and your feet stacked.
  2. Drop your hips down as close to the floor as possible.
  3. Raise them straight up to the ceiling as high as possible.
  4. Keep moving from low to high for as many reps as you can, then switch sides.

Tip

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.

If you’re having trouble with this, 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.

11. Rotating Plank

And keep it moving with the rotating plank.
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  1. Start in a standard forearm plank (see above).
  2. 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.
  3. Lower back to a standard plank.
  4. Hold for a second before rolling over to the other side.
  5. Continue alternating sides.

Tip

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.

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