15 Plank Exercises And Variations To Strengthen Your Abs And Core

Planks are one of the best bodyweight exercises to strengthen and build your core, including your abs. These exercises also help to strengthen muscles in your back, particularly your lower back. 

Planks involve keeping your body in a rigid position for a set duration of time to maintain lots of tension in your core. The key to getting the most out of plank positions is to focus on performing the exercise correctly for the period you select. You get more out of a focused plank for 30 seconds than a poor plank with your body sagging for a few minutes. Another trick is to squeeze your glutes while in the position since this helps to keep your body straight. 

Planks target various muscles, but it primarily engages your transverse and rectus abdominis. The latter are the muscles in front of your abdomen that help keep your organs in place and support muscles in your spine. They are popularly termed “six-pack muscles” because of the definition and shape they give your abdominal region. 

The transverse abdominis is the muscles that wrap around your waist and stabilize the lower back. Their role is so important, weak transverse abdominis muscles are the most common cause of lower back pain. 

Other muscles targeted by planks include the rhomboid and trapezius muscles in your upper back, your pectorals (chest) muscles, and the serratus anterior muscles that wrap around your shoulders and the side of your chest. 

 

15 Plank Variations That Will Strengthen Your Abs And Core

Some of the variations of the plank exercise you should consider adding to your workout program to build a stronger core include:

 

1) Conventional Plank

The conventional plank targets your core, glutes, latissimus dorsi, and deltoids. It’s a very simple position to get into if you’re already used to performing push-ups. Here’s what it looks like:

  • Get into a high plank position as if getting ready to perform push-ups. Your wrists should be directly underneath your shoulders.
  • Your legs should be extended behind you with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
  • Engage your quads, glutes, and core as you tuck your tailbone to form a straight line with your body.
  • Hold the position for as long as you can without sacrificing your form. Aim for about three sets of these to give your upper back muscles a proper workout.

 

2) Forearm Plank

The forearm plank is an easier variation of the conventional plank. It targets the same muscle groups but requires less strength to pull off. To perform a forearm plank:

  • Put your forearms on the ground with your shoulders stacked directly over your shoulders. Keep your hands facing forward to keep both arms parallel.
  • Stretch out your legs behind you, keeping your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Tighten your core, quads, and glutes, while keeping your tailbone tucked. Hold the position for as long as you can and repeat for three sets.

 

3) Forearm Plank Rock

This exercise also targets your latissimus dorsi, deltoids, and glutes. It’s a variation of the forearm plank that involves rocking your body to force the muscles targeted to work harder. To perform a forearm plank:

  • Get into the same position as you would for the forearm plank with your elbows directly under your shoulders and your arms parallel.
  • Tuck your tailbone and tighten your core, glutes, and quads as you get into the pose.
  • Rock your entire body forward a few inches, moving your shoulder past your elbows and toward your hands. Rock back to the original position to complete a rep. Aim for three sets of as many reps as you can.

 

4) Lateral Plank Walk

The lateral plank walk engages all the muscles conventional planks engage like your deltoids, core, and latissimus dorsi, but it also forces your triceps to do lots of work. To perform the exercise:

  • Get into a high plank position with your shoulders stacked above your hands and your legs extended behind you and spaced hip-width apart.
  • Move toward your right side by moving your right hand and foot, then follow with your left hand and foot to complete a rep. Maintain the plank position as you move.
  • Perform the desired number of reps in one direction and repeat the same movements moving in the other direction. You can also wrap a resistance band around your upper arms and torso to make the exercise more challenging.

 

5) Iron Cross-Hand Plank

This plank variation is an effective way to work your abdominal muscles. To perform the exercise:

  • Get into a high-plank position with your arms extended as far as out as possible to your sides without allowing your chest to touch the ground. Your body forms a “T” when you’re in the correct position.
  • Tighten your core as you get ready to perform the exercise and keep the tension there until you’re done with the exercise.
  • Hold the position for as long as you can to complete a set. Aim for three sets.

 

6) Spinal Rotation Planks

This exercise targets your deltoids, latissimus dorsi, core, and abdominal muscles. It’s also one of the more fun variations of the plank since it involves rotating your body. Here’s what the exercise looks like:

  • Get into a high-plank position with your hands shoulder-width apart. Keep your feet hip-width apart while contracting your glutes and core.
  • Rotate your entire body from this position until you end up in a side plank. Your right shoulder should be above your right wrist, while your left hand extends toward the ceiling. Pause for a second and return to the starting position. Repeat the exercise turning to your left side and returning to the starting position to complete a rep.
  • Aim for three sets of as many reps as you can pump out.

 

7) Plank To Downward Dog

This exercise targets your rhomboids more than other variations of the plank. Here’s what it looks like: 

  • Get into a high plank position with your wrists underneath your shoulders and your feet hip-width apart.
  • Drive your hips up and back to move your body into a downward dog pose with your heels pointing toward the floor.
  • Engage your core and move your hips forward and down to return to the starting position.

 

8) Side Plank

The side plank targets your obliques more than most variations of the plank, while still engaging your deltoids, latissimus dorsi, and abdominal muscles. To perform the exercise:

  • Lay down on your right side with your right hand under your right shoulders. Extend your legs and place your left foot on your right foot.
  • Squeeze your glutes and abs to raise your hips off the ground and extend your left hand towards the ceiling. Hold the position for a set duration before repeating the pose with your other side to complete a set. Aim for about three sets.

 

9) Plank Shoulder Tap

This variation of the plank forces your shoulders to do more work than standard planks. Here’s what the exercise looks like:

  • Get into a high plank position with your palms flat on the floor. Remember to tighten your glutes, core, and quads to keep your body straight.
  • Tap your left hand over your right should while keeping the rest of your body as stiff as possible. Repeat the movement with your other arm to complete a rep. Aim for three sets of as many reps as you can get.

 

10) Plank Hop

The plank hop variation gets your legs more involved in the exercise. To perform a plank hop:

  • Get into a high plank position and tighten your core and glutes to keep your body straight. Keep your legs extended as you would on a conventional plank, but bring your feet together.
  • Squeeze your quads to keep your feet together and jump your feet forward and to the right toward your elbow. Jump your feet back to the starting position.
  • Jump your feet forward and to the left towards your elbow, squeezing your quads to keep your feet together. Bring your legs back to the starting position to complete a rep. Aim for three sets of as many reps as you can perform. If you find the exercise too challenging, you can make it easier by putting some distance between your feet.

 

11) Plank Jack

Plank jacks target your triceps, hip adductors, glutes, core, deltoids, core, and latissimus dorsi. Here’s what it looks like:

  • Get into a high plank with your glutes and abs engaged.
  • Jump your feet in and out as if you were performing jumping jacks. Try to keep your hips and backside still as you jump your feet. Keep going for as long as you can or a set duration. Aim for three sets.

 

12) Plank Toe Tap

Here’s another variation of the plank that targets your hip adductors. It also works your deltoids, core, glutes, and latissimus dorsi. To perform the exercise:

  • Get into a high plank and step your right foot a few inches to the right. Bring it back to the starting position and repeat the movement with your left foot.
  • Keep alternating between your right and left foot, while keeping your body straight in a high plank. Engage your glutes and core to prevent your body from sagging.
  • Perform the exercise for a set duration to complete a set. Aim for about three sets.

 

13) Forearm Plank To Dolphin Pose

This variation of the core engages your quads, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, deltoids, and core. It’s an effective way to increase muscle strength and endurance in your core and back. Here’s what the exercise looks like:

  • Get into a forearm plank with your shoulders stacked over your elbows. Remember to tighten your glutes and core to maintain the correct posture.
  • Press your forearms on the ground and lift your hips up and back. Your head should be between your shoulders and your body should form an inverted “V” in this position.
  • Pause for a second at the top and slowly lower yourself back into a forearm plank. Continue the movement for a set duration to complete a set. Aim for three to five sets.

 

14) Plank Up And Down (aka Commando Planks)

This variation of the plank forces your triceps to carry a heavy load while strengthening your abs and core. To perform the exercise:

  • Get into a high plank with your feet about hip-width apart. Keep your abs and glutes engaged to keep your body straight.
  • Lower your right forearm to the ground and do the same with your left forearm to get into a forearm plank position.
  • Place your right hand back down on the floor to extend your right arm and repeat with your left hand to return to a high plank. This completes a rep.
  • Aim for three sets of as many reps as you can get. The key to getting the most out of this exercise is keeping your hips still so it doesn’t swing from side to side as you complete your reps. Widen the space between your feet if you’re having a hard time with this.

 

15) Superman Plank Hold

This variation of the plank puts your core muscles to the test, particularly your obliques. Your torso will be just as defined as superman’s if you make this exercise a regular part of your workouts. You’ll need a resistance band wrapped around an anchor point to perform this exercise. Here’s what it looks like: 

  • Get into a high plank right next to something you can use as an anchor point. Hold the end of a resistance band with the hand opposite the anchor.
  • Extend the hand holding the band out while keeping your other hand in place so you look like Superman flying. Hold the position for a few seconds and return to the starting position to complete a rep.
  • Perform three to eight reps and do the same on your other side to complete a set. Aim for three sets.

 

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