Planking isn't just some trendy exercise—it's been proven to serve as a very effective method to tone, tighten, and strengthen your core. Adding planks to your regular fitness routine will work your abs from top to bottom and your entire core from front to back. However, doing a basic plank day after day will most likely get boring and can even become less effective over time. That's why you need to change it up and add different plank exercises into the rotation, and why we're providing you with a solid list of choices to help you develop a solid midsection. These exercises can be done at home, at the gym, or outside.
What Is a Plank, Anyway?
The plank is a basic isometric exercise that requires you to contract the muscles of your core and maintain that contraction for as long as possible while staying in a stationary position. You rest your upper body on your forearms while your toes are hip-width apart as if you were doing a push-up. Even though doing the basic plank can be an intense challenge for many people, it won't take a toll on the joints and there is minimal chance of a muscle injury since they aren't stretching or contracting repeatedly. Some advanced versions do call for movement, but there isn't as much action involved as there is in movements like a squat or a clean and press.
What Are the Benefits of Planks?
Why should you even plank to begin with? There are several great reasons. First, there is the convenience of doing them. You don't need a bench or any other form of equipment. You can plank anytime you want, almost anywhere you want—all you need is open space and time.
Secondly, while the plank is associated with the abs, it can also provide great benefits to the lower back. Having a strong core will protect your spine, which can help prevent back pain or decrease back pain you may already be dealing with. Doing planks regularly can also work to improve your posture, as well as warm up your core for other exercises, helping to prevent potential injury.
10 Plank Exercises to Add to Your Ab Workout
1. High Plank
If you're new to plank exercises, then start with this version until you feel more comfortable going to the basic version with your weight on your forearms. The high plank is simple, but it's far from easy if you do it correctly.
Get into the top of a push-up position. Keep your arms and legs straight, and don't arch your back. Keep your neck neutral, as well. Tighten your core, glutes, and quads once you get into this position. You should be thinking about keeping your body as elongated as possible. Hold this position for as long as you can or for the desired time.
Expert tip: Hold a plank for 5 seconds, then do a push-up. Once you lock out the push-up, repeat for another 5-second hold. Continue this until you reach failure or 10 push-ups.
2. Weighted Plank
If you want to amp up the strength-building aspect of planks, all you need is a partner and a weight plate to have a whole new challenge on your hands, or back.
Assume the traditional plank position with your forearms on the floor. Your shoulders should be directly above your elbows. Have your training partner place a weight plate on your back. Once the partner lets go of the weight, the time begins. When you feel like you're going to reach failure, have your partner remove the weight.
Expert tip: Even as little as a 5-pound plate can make a difference. So don't feel like you have to jump straight up to a 45. Also, don't try to find a way to do this on your own. If you don't have a partner to help you with the weight plate, use a weighted vest.
3. Plank Jack
Now we're going to add some movement to the equation. This is a great warm-up choice for runners, athletes about to train legs, or as an impromptu cardio challenge. You can find many ways to add this one into your routine.
Assume the high plank position as described above. Jump with your feet and kick them out to the sides while trying to keep your upper body stationary. Once your feet touch the ground, jump again to bring them back to the starting position. Repeat for the desired reps or time limit.
Expert tip: Ankle weights will make this one more interesting, as well. Once you feel comfortable with the form, try to do as many as you can in 30 seconds, then 60, then up to 2 minutes.
4. Dolphin Plank
This plank exercise will help you improve your back and shoulders as well as your abs. It's a little more intense, but taking the time to improve on it will yield multiple rewards for the entire body.
Assume the basic plank position. Once you feel stable, lift your hips up toward the ceiling. Your body should look like an inverted "V" at the top. After holding this position for a few seconds, lower back down to the starting position.
Expert tip: Try to do 3 sets of 10-20 reps at the end of a workout as a way to burn a few extra calories and to serve as the start of a cool-down.
5. Side Plank Crunch
Now we're getting fancy! Aside from stabilization, the obliques are about to put in some work. For many people, the obliques are the weakest part of the abdominal region. So don't be afraid of these—embrace them.
Assume a side plank position with your forearm on the floor and your shoulder over your elbow. Your forearm should be pointed away from your body, not under your body. Extend your top arm past your head. Bring the arm back in toward your core while at the same time bringing your top knee up and in as if you're trying to touch your elbow and knee together.
Once you bring your elbow and knee into the middle, stretch both back out to the starting position. This is one rep. Repeat for the desired reps, then switch sides.
Expert tip: Make this one part of a full-body circuit if you want to burn a lot of calories in a hurry.
6. Plank with Shoulder Tap
Athletes who train for sports performance can rely on this one to help with stability, balance, and body control. The core needs to work even harder to keep your body stable while you're going through the upper-body motions, making this an excellent full-body move plus core burner.
Assume a high plank position. Once you feel solid in that position, lift your right hand up and touch your left shoulder. Return your right hand to the starting position. Next, lift your left hand and touch your right shoulder. Once your left hand is back on the floor, you've done one rep.
Expert tip: Hold a high plank for 60 seconds, then try to perform 10-15 shoulder taps per side before leaving the position. The 60 seconds will serve as a pre-exhaust that will make this move even more challenging.
7. Up-Down Plank
Start in the high plank position. Lift your left hand and place your left forearm on the floor. Repeat with the right arm. Once both forearms are on the floor, reverse the motion and push yourself back up to the starting position, one arm at a time. This is one rep. Repeat for the desired reps.
Expert tip: Do you want a real core challenge? Perform 30 seconds of the up-down plank after each set of another workout you're doing. You will get in a solid ab session on top of whatever other workout you're doing.
8. Plank with Knee Taps
Did you know that your entire torso is surrounded by muscles that look kind of like a corset? This group of muscles is known as the transverse abdominis, and this plank exercise is going to put a lot of focus on them.
Assume a traditional plank position with your feet hip-width apart. Once you're in this position, tilt your pelvis forward and bend your knees. Stop just short of touching the floor and pause for 5-10 seconds, depending on your fitness level. Return to the starting position and repeat.
Expert tip: You can do this exercise as a part of a larger abdominal routine, or you could use it as part of a warm-up routine.
9. Resistance Band Plank
If you have a resistance band lying around, grab it for this exercise. If not, consider purchasing one. Resistance bands are a versatile tool that can be used for a wide range of exercises and are well worth the investment.
Drape the band across your upper back and loop the ends around your hands. Get into the high plank position as described above. Much like the weighted plank, the band provides added resistance, making this plank variation more challenging. Hold the top position until you reach failure or the allotted time is reached.
Expert tip: Don't be afraid to use a band with heavier resistance if you want to increase the challenge.
10. Bird-Dog Plank
This plank exercise will work the entire body and requires coordination, balance, and concentration. Don't allow yourself to get distracted when executing this movement.
Assume a high plank position, keeping your back and neck straight. Extend your right arm and left leg out, keeping them in line with your body. Hold for a few seconds, then bring your right elbow underneath your body while bringing in your left knee at the same time. You should feel a slight crunch in your midsection. Return to the starting position and repeat with the left arm and right leg.
Expert tip: Ankle weights and a dumbbell will make this an intense resistance exercise, as well. Wear the ankle weights and hold the dumbbell with the arm you're moving. Return the dumbbell to the floor before assuming the starting position.
You can do three or four versions of the plank in one workout, sprinkle them into different parts of your overall workout routine, or perform all of them in an extended ab session. There are several ways you can apply them, but the key to making the improvements you seek is to do them consistently.