Between yoga abs, power Pilates, and core blast classes, a common theme has held true over the last decade: a good plank is worth every second of your time.
Why do planks continue to win out over crunches? Planking is a core-endurance exercise that trains your ability to isometrically contract your core muscles for longer amounts of time. And, in a plank, your abdominal wall is positioned optimally against gravity.
Solid plank training can lead to reduced back pain, particularly when you’re standing for prolonged periods of time. And, of course, though we know great abs are made in the kitchen, a strong core remains a key to strength whether it be getting your first pull-up or working on your maximal squat strength.
With some simple form tips in mind, let’s spice up your plank life and take your core strength to the next level.
5-Minute Plank Warm-up
Before getting into more advanced variations of the plank, it’s always a good idea to go back to basics with a great warm-up. If the suggested times are overly challenging, start with 10 seconds. Below the warm-up, you’ll find the detailed instructions for the movements.
- 30-second forearm plank
- 30-second right arm modified side plank
- 30-second forearm plank
- 30-second left arm modified side plank
- 30-second rest
How to Do Forearm Plank
- Place palms on the ground with shoulders over elbows.
- Dome the upper back so the shoulder blades have space between them.
- Scoop the belly, by lightly pulling your belly button to your spine, while maintaining your regular breathing rate.
- Focus on flexing the feet (toes to shin) to increase the engagement of the legs.
- Straighten the knees and squeeze the thighs toward one another.
- For maximal effect, squeeze your buns together as if there is a quarter between your cheeks.
How to Do Modified Side Plank
- Place your right palm on the ground with your elbow underneath your right shoulder.
- For modified side plank, keep your right knee on the ground.
- Reach your left hand to the ceiling.
- Work to lift your right hip away from the ground, keeping the body in a single plane, hip stacked over hip.
10-Minute Fab Abs: A Yoga-Inspired Plank Series
Now that you’re warm, complete two rounds of the following exercises. Take minimal rest as needed and aim to complete the two rounds in 10 minutes.
- 10 repetitions down dog with knee drive to same elbow (5 each side)
- 30-second fallen star hold, right
- 30-second fallen star hold, left
- 10 repetitions down dog with alternating opposite hand to shin (5 each side)
- 30-second star plank, right side
- 30-second star plank, left side
- 10 repetitions forearm plank with shoulder tap (5 each side)
- Bonus Points: 30-second crow practice
How to Do Down Dog with Knee Drive to Same Elbow
- Starting from the down dog position, lift your right heel to the ceiling.
- Shifting forward into high plank, drive your right knee forward to contact (or get as close as you can) to your right triceps.
- Lift the right leg up to the ceiling and go for 4 more repetitions before switching sides.
How to Do Fallen Star
- From a down dog position, kick your right leg underneath your body, extending out to the right of your belly button.
- Allow the soles of both feet to make contact with the ground.
- Lift your top hand high and allow your head to fall back.
- Maintain hip distance from the ground for a 30-second static hold.
- If you need to modify, bend your knees.
How to Do Down Dog with Alternating Opposite Hand to Shin
- Starting in high plank position, lift your right hand off the ground and shift back into down dog, tapping left shin with right hand.
- Put your right hand back down and shift back into high plank.
- Lift your left hand and move to down dog, touching your right shin.
How to Do Star Plank
- From a full side plank position, lift your top leg away from your bottom leg.
- Flex the foot of the lifted leg to increase the engagement of your upper hip.
- Optionally, you can take this pose on your forearm.
- In either version, maintain the hip lift from the ground and focus on breathing through this isometric hold.
How to Do High Plank with Shoulder Tap
- From the high plank position, tap your fingertips to opposite shoulder.
- Focus on preventing the hips from dropping to either side as you work your balance in this exercise. Think of yourself as an anti-rotation machine, keeping your hips square to the ground.
How to Do Crow
- Plant your palms on the ground.
- Set your gaze about six inches forward of your fingertips.
- Make contact with your knees at the outside of your armpits.
- Maintaining a strong forward gaze, shift your weight onto your hands, bending your elbows.
- Lift your right toes, or your left, away from the ground.
- Keep practicing until both feet come off the ground.
Just like anything worth doing in the exercise world (or elsewhere), this series will take some practice. Build up your static holds and overall plank endurance, and the core strength gains will be yours for the long haul.