Move over crunches! When it comes to sculpting a strong and sexy midsection, you can’t beat the plank. This exercise works the entire core (which includes your abdominals, obliques, back, glutes, and even the upper portion of your legs). Best of all, there are numerous plank variations to target specific areas of the core. Let’s check out a few of our favorites!
Special Emphasis: Abdominals (primarily rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis) and Shoulders
Trainer Tips: This is the classic plank exercise. Your goal is to make your body one strong unit from the top of your head to your heels. To prevent injury, keep your wrists under your shoulders and your neck in a neutral position (keep your head in-line with your spine and avoid looking up or through your legs). Pull your abdominals in tight and avoid letting your hips sag or pike towards the ceiling.
Modifications: This exercise can be performed from your forearms to reduce intensity and wrist/joint discomfort. Place your elbows directly under your shoulders and clasp your hands, forming a pyramid shape. Just like the straight-arm plank, your body should remain one long unit from the top of your head to your heels. You can also modify this exercise by placing your hands on an elevated surface such as a railing, table, or step. This increases the angle between your body and the ground and reduces intensity.
Progressions: Challenge yourself by holding your plank for longer than one minute, or try your plank with hands or feet on an unstable surface, such as a BOSU ball.
Special Emphasis: Obliques
Trainer Tips: Side planks turn the traditional plank on its side to work the waistline. To perform a side plank, place one hand directly under your shoulder and extend your legs, stacking or slightly staggering your feet. (This exercise challenges your balance, so choose the foot position that helps you feel secure). Lift up through the side of your body, as if a rope is tied around your waist. Keep your neck in a neutral position, avoid placing all your weight in the working shoulder, and feel those obliques quiver! (P.S. Shaking means you’re working hard! Just make sure to keep breathing!)
Modifications: You can modify this movement by placing your bottom knee on the ground for extra support. Additionally, you can perform this exercise from your forearm to relieve wrist pressure. (Make sure your elbow remains directly under your shoulder).
Progressions: Challenge your balance by lifting your top leg to create a “starfish” with your body.
Special Emphasis: Glutes and Back
Trainer Tips: This movement turns the straight-arm plank upside down to target your back and buns. Begin in a seated position on the floor, placing your hands by your side (your fingertips can point towards your feet). Plant your heels and lift your hips towards the ceiling until your body is one long, strong unit from the top of your head to your heels. To avoid neck strain, hold your neck in a neutral position.
Modifications: Try forming a tabletop with your body by bending your knees and pushing your hips towards the ceiling. Make sure your neck remains neutral, with ankles under your knees and wrists directly under your shoulders. You can also use a bench or elevated surface for your hands to reduce pressure.
Progressions: Try lifting one leg a few inches off the ground. Hold for a few seconds, then switch to the other leg.
Special Emphasis: Abdominals (primarily rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis) and Fat-Burning
Trainer Tips: This plank variation is a great way to boost your cardiovascular capacity, burn tons of calories, and sculpt amazing abs! Begin in a straight-arm plank, then bring one knee in towards your chest. Alternate as quickly as you can until you’re “running.” Make sure to keep those wrists under the shoulders and pull your abs in tight!
Modifications: You can simplify this movement by slowing it down. To relieve wrist pressure, try placing your hands on a pair of hexagonal dumbbells.
Progressions: Create intervals. Perform mountain climbers for at least one minute, alternating your legs as fast as you can. Rest for 1 minute and repeat this sequence 3-5 times for a cardio and core burn.
Plank with Alternating Side Toe-Taps
Special Emphasis: Abdominals (rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, obliques)
Trainer Tips: This plank variation is a great twist on the classic straight-arm plank. Holding a strong plank, step one foot to the outside of your exercise mat. Tap the toe, then bring your leg back to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. Continue alternating toe taps to sculpt the abs and waistline!
Modifications: This exercise can be performed on your forearms (with elbows directly under your shoulders) to reduce intensity and wrist discomfort.
Progressions: Turn this exercise into a plank jack by jumping your feet to the outside of your mat, then jumping your feet back together. Repeat as quickly as you can while still holding a strong plank. Plank jacks are great for burning calories and shredding your abs! You can also try alternating your top leg back and forth in a side plank for an added challenge.
These are just a few of the many amazing plank variations you can use to strengthen your midsection. A strong core is vital to endurance, injury prevention, and the ability to perform daily tasks with ease. For more great core-strengthening ideas, browse our media library of fitness videos or register for a live fitness class. We’re here 24/7 to help you whittle your middle!