Holding a plank can seem like an eternity sometimes. Time slows to a crawl. It’s mind over matter. You, versus your quivering abdominals. Caught staring at the stopwatch again? Us, too. But the benefits of a good core workout keep us planking.
The humble plank targets your abdominals, shoulders, arms, legs, back and even your glutes, says Angela Rubin, ISSA personal trainer and USAT Level 1 triathlon coach. “Core strength is the starting point of all movement,” she says. “It really is the key part of the body in any sport.” Plus, having good stability is crucial in order to react to the constantly changing environment around you. Planks also have sit-ups beat when it comes to protecting the lower back, since they are less likely to put pressure on the spine, Rubin says.
Since standard planks don’t always bring the fun factor to workouts, we knew there had to be a more stimulating way to tone our midsection. So, we asked Rubin for some plank variations to keep your mind occupied and your waistline working.
5 Plank Variations to Bust Workout Boredom
First things first: Your form must be on point to get the most out of this move. “You don’t want to let your hips sag or your back round,” says Rubin. Translation: No hunched shoulders or rears sticking up in the air. For these variations, Rubin recommends starting in table top position with your hands directly under your shoulders. Next, extend your legs so you are balanced on your toes. This is a high plank position. Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders down to your heels, with feet hip-width apart. Want an extra challenge? Bringing your feet closer together will create more instability to contend with during the workout.
Follow along with the GIFs below, listed from easiest to hardest, for a killer core workout. Perform all the exercises below for 30 seconds followed by 15 seconds of rest. (Experienced gym rats can shoot for 60 to 90 seconds.) Repeat for three rounds, or pick your favorites and tack them onto the end of your next workout for a great core-focused finisher.
1. Planks with Toe Taps
How to: Start in table top position and extend your legs behind you so you are balancing on your hands and toes. Your shoulders should be directly above your wrists and your feet should be together (a). Keeping your core engaged and maintaining a straight line from head to toe, swing your right leg to the side and gently tap your toes on the ground. Your right leg should be approximately 45 degrees from your left leg (b). Bring your right leg back to center. Now perform the movement with the left leg (c). Repeat these movements at a brisk pace for 30 seconds.
2. Jack Planks
How to: Start in a high plank position with hands planted firmly on the ground, wrists directly below your shoulders. and body in a straight line from head to toe (a). Jump your feet apart like you would do for a jumping jack. Keep your knees soft to help absorb the impact (b). Jump your feet back together, landing softly on the balls of your feet (c). Repeat at a brisk pace for 30 seconds.
3. Reach Around the Clock Planks
How to: Begin by performing a standard high plank, as detailed above (a). Keeping your body stable and not letting your hips sag, lift up your right arm and extend it over your head. Hold for one second, then extend your arm straight out to the right and hold for one second. Next, extend your arm straight back towards your feet and hold for one second (b). Bring your right arm back to the starting position (c). Repeat movements with the left arm (d). Continue alternating arms at a brisk pace for 30 seconds.
4. Side Planks with Reach Through
How to: This moves begins like a side plank: Lie on your right side. Place your right hand firmly on the ground and, engaging your core, raise your body up into a side plank, creating a straight line from your head to your toes. Your feet should be stacked on top of each other (a). Extend your left arm out from your shoulder so it is straight up in the air (b). Lower your arm in front of you and bring it below your right hip, like you are reaching for something behind you. Your shoulders and hips can twist a tiny bit, but your core should be working hard here (c). Bring your arm back above your body, extended upwards from your shoulder. Repeat for 30 seconds, then switch to the left side and perform for 30 seconds (d). For an extra challenge, hold a light dumbbell in your free hand.
5. Spiderman Planks
How to: Start in a standard plank position, palms planted firmly on the ground. Maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your heels by engaging your core muscles. Your feet should be hip-width apart (a). Lift your right leg two or three inches off the ground and bring your right knee towards your right elbow while keeping your hips as stable as possible (b). Return your right leg back to the ground, and repeat on the left side (c). Alternate legs at a brisk pace for 30 seconds.
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Originally posted May 2015. Updated April 2016.