The plank is one of the best moves to have in your exercise regimen to build a strong (and sexy) core. Not only does it help to flatten your abs, but more importantly it helps to increase your overall core strength. Having a strong core is great for stabilizing your spine and preventing lower back pain.
It works all the muscle groups in your abdominals – lower abs, upper abs, obliques – as well as your lower back. Implementing this move into your workout will help you cut down on all of the crunches! As you build up core strength you can increase the length of time you hold your plank.
Types of Planks
There’s more than one way to plank, so you can add some variation to your workout.
Full plank – This is the traditional plank, performed in a push-up position on your hands. You feet are positioned hip width apart, hands are directly under your shoulders. The key to EVERY plank is to keep you body in a straight line – and not bend or arch your back.
Elbow plank – I also call this the beginners or modified plank. You position your body the same as a full plank, but you are resting your elbows on the ground. This makes it easier to stabilize your core, especially if you’re just starting out and haven’t developed a lot of core strength – it also takes some of the weight off your wrists.
Side plank – Like the regular plank, this can also be modified and performed on your elbow. Come up onto one arm/elbow with your legs straight and feet stacked. If you have trouble balancing, your can stagger your feet slightly, with the top leg in front. Again, be sure to keep your back straight. Keep your abs engaged and reach your shoulders away from your ears – this will help keep your spine aligned.
Elevated plank – This can be performed with either your feet or hands elevated. You can use a bench, step, stability ball, or a bosu ball, depending on how much of a challenge you’re wanting. Side plank can also be elevated, generally with your feet elevated.
Low Plank – This is an advanced moved, that also requires some upper body strength. It’s also used in yoga. Start in full plank and lower your body down with your elbows pointing back and close to your sides. Hold your body a couple inches above the ground.
For any plank, start for a short amount of time (about 20 seconds). Build your way up to a full minute. The stronger your core becomes, the longer you will be able to hold the plank position. Be sure that your abs are fully engaged and that you’re breathing throughout the entire plank. If you find yourself arching your back, or drooping your stomach, come out of plank or shorten your time.
There are a number of exercise moves that incorporate the plank – whether it be a side plank, full plank, or both! Combination moves are great in general, but using the plank in combination with another move can really help build a strong core. Some of my faves are:
Side plank dip – Start in side plank and lower your hip to the ground and back up, being sure to keep your legs and arm straight
Up and Down plank – Start in full plank and lower one arm at a time down to your elbows, then back up to full plank. Be sure to concentrate on keeping your naval pulled into your spine the entire time.
Side plank leg raise – Start in side plank, with your free arm straight out in front. Raise your top leg and kick tap your toes to your hand and lower.
Knee to chest plank – This can be done either in elevated plank or regular full plank. Tuck your knee to your chest, alternating legs. This can also be done by bringing your knee to the opposite shoulder (Cross-body knee tuck). The knee to chest plank at a fast pace is called a mountain climber, which are a great cardio-core workout.
Reptile plank – You bring your right knee up and toward the outside of your right arm (reptile-like, hence the name). Return back to plank and repeat either on the same side or alternating sides. You will feel this mainly in your obliques. This can also be done with your feet or hands elevated. To make it REALLY hard, you can lower down into a push-up when bringing your knee forward, and press up to return back to plank.
Side plank rotation – Start in side plank, either on your hand or elbow, with top arm raised. Rotate your torso and bring your top arm down and under your body then back up to start.
Row plank – Start in full plank with a dumbbell in each hand. While keeping a straight body line, row your arm bending the elbow back and bringing the weight next to your ribs. Lower and repeat alternating sides.
Plank Jacks – This can be done in full plank or elevated plank. While keeping your back and arms straight, jump your legs apart and then back together….essentially, it’s a plank jumping jack.
There are probably tons more, but theses are just a few of my faves! Here’s a sample plank workout to get you started. Happy Planking!
Complete 3 rounds. Rest 10 seconds between moves, and 30 seconds between rounds if needed. (All of the moves are described above)
Plank Jacks: 20 seconds
Reptile Plank: 20 seconds/side
Full Plank: 20 seconds
Elbow Plank: 20 seconds
Up-Down Plank: 20 seconds
Cross-Body Knee Tucks: 20 seconds