Planks are a full-body exercise that uses your own body weight and gravity for resistance. Popular for strengthening your core, this common exercise can flatten your abs, define your arms and strengthen your shoulders. Before you can plank your way to physical perfection, however, you must start with the basics.
The following is a list of plank variations, starting with beginner-level and progressing through to intermediate and finally, advanced plank poses. Every athlete who has mastered the art of planking had to start somewhere, so give these eight plank variations a try and watch your figure transform.
Keep in mind that when it comes to planking, form is everything. Correct form produces results; incorrect form produces zero results and can cause injury. The following moves are described with correct form in mind.
Knee Elbow Plank
It doesn’t get much more basic than this. Behold, the Knee Elbow Plank:
- Get face down on a yoga mat, distribute your weight evenly between your bent knees and elbows.
- Keep your core engaged, holding in your abs. This protects your back and keeps correct spinal alignment.
- Keep your neck in a straight line with your spine but relaxed.
- Clasp your hands and hold this for 30 seconds, three times.
- If 30 seconds is too much, start at 10 seconds each set and work up to holding for longer times.
Toe Elbow Plank
The Toe Elbow Plank is your standard plank. Master this one before moving on to the next plank style.
- Support your lower body on your toes instead of your knees.
- Engage abs and core and keep your spinal alignment.
- The toe elbow plank is a good progression from the knee elbow plank.
Knee Shoulder Plank
The Knee Shoulder Plank works your arms and shoulders a bit more than the previous plank variations.
- On your knees, rest the weight of your upper body on two straight arms in line with your shoulders.
- Remember form and keep core and abs engaged.
- Don’t let your shoulders shrug toward your ears and look straight ahead.
- Hold for 30 seconds or as much as you can and work up to longer hold times.
Toe Hand Planks
Toe Hand planks are basically the knee shoulder plank, only with your legs straight instead of bent.
- Your weight should be evenly distributed between your toes and your hands.
- Your arms are straight and your core is engaged with abs pulled in.
- Your spine should be straight from your ankles to your neck – no sagging hips or arched backs.
- Since you don’t have the extra help balancing as you did when you were on your knees, your core has to work harder to maintain balance and proper form.
Stability Ball Variation
In the Stability Ball variation, your lower body is supported with your shins resting on a stability ball and your upper body on straight arms. You will feel this in your shoulders, abs, back and core muscle groups.
Upper Body Stability Ball Variation
In the Upper Body Stability Ball version, your upper body is resting on the ball with your elbows bent at 90 degree angles. Your back needs to be perfectly aligned, so imagine a broomstick from your heels to the base of your neck. You do this by keeping your core engaged, abs held in tight and keep those hips from sagging. Your heels will be off the floor, using your toes for balance.
In a Walking Plank, you start off in the basic plank position, with straight arms. Keep abs tight to protect your lower back. Your weight is all supported by your hands and toes only, which is great for the core work! Now walk your left hand and foot back a step, keeping proper form; repeat on the right. Aim for 3 sets of 10 steps (reps).
Sidewinders – the Side Plank
For a Side Plank:
- Start in the basic plank position with straight arms.
- Keeping your arms straight, rotate your body and arm over to one side. (Your body will be in a “T” shape.)
- Slowly rotate back to the starting position, arms still supporting your upper body and straight, and rotate to the other side the same way.
- Your body should be as straight as possible.
- It is easy to get fatigued and let the hip drop or the arm bend so try to keep proper form for maximum results.
- An advanced planker should be able to do 3 sets of 8 rotations.
As you can see, planking is one of the more challenging workouts but planking is by far the most effective body weight exercise there is. A typical beginner may start at 10 second holds and work up from there. An intermediate person should be able to start at 30 seconds and advanced students can start at a minute and go even longer. Start at the beginning and don’t give up when it gets hard, because it will. You got this!