When it comes to ab workouts, there’s a nine out of 10 chance they will involve some sort of a plank. The move is a staple for good reason: They’re challenging and certainly bring the burn to your torso. Also notable? You can make an entire workout out of the many different types of plank exercises that exist.
The fact that there are so many kinds of planks out there is a good thing because they’re doing more than working your core. “Planks don't just target your abs but require almost all the major muscle groups in your body to work together,” Melissa Kendter, a trainer with Tone & Sculpt, tells Bustle. “When done properly, they strengthen your spine, obliques, rhomboids, lats, traps, core, quads, glutes, hamstrings, shoulders, and arms, which in turn translates into improving overall performance inside and outside the gym — and everyday life.” As in: Planks count as functional strength training.
Besides the strength aspect, another benefit of doing planks is improved posture thanks to the way they condition some of the key muscle groups responsible for holding you upright, Kendter explains. They’re also ideal if you have other athletic pursuits, like running. “Strong core muscles make it easier to do most physical activities, as a weak core can lead to more fatigue, less endurance, and injuries,” she says.
To make sure you reap the most benefits out of your workouts, Kendter recommends doing a variety of plank moves like high planks, side planks, and other variations. “The versatility and accessibility of doing different planks make them one of the most incredible, well-rounded movements,” she says. Read on for how to do different types of planks for a solid sweat sesh.
1. High Plank
First up is the classic high plank, which works your entire body, from your glutes and core to your arms and shoulders.
To begin, start on all fours in the tabletop position with your face pointing towards the floor. “Make sure your hands are directly below your elbows and shoulders,” Kendter says. You’ll want to be in proper form to get the most benefit and prevent injury.
From there, lift your knees slowly until you’re supporting your body weight on just your hands and toes, Kendter says. The goal is to form a straight line from the top of your head down to your heels. Keep your core and back straight and pull your ribs in so that your middle doesn’t bow down.
2. Forearm Plank
If a high plank is too tricky or you want to adjust and try a modification, go for the forearm plank.
To get into it, lie on your stomach on a mat. From there, Kendter says to rest your body on your bent forearms with legs out straight behind you, toes tucked in. Keep your forearms on the ground while the rest of your body lifts — your elbows should be right underneath your shoulders. Everything should remain in a straight line. Keep your back and core straight with your belly button pulled in towards the spine.
3. Knee Plank
The knee plank is a way to modify the high plank, which can be helpful for beginners. Follow the instructions for the high plank but keep your knees on the floor. As always, remember to pull your ribs in and keep everything lined up. Using the correct form is always more important than how long you can hold a plank. As Kendter says, “You want to master the basics and get strong before moving on.”
4. Side Plank
Once you get used to standard planks, try a side plank, an excellent exercise for working the sides of your core. “This type of plank is unilateral and great for the low back and the back in general,” Kendter says. “It strengthens the obliques and deep spinal stabilizing muscles, as well as hips and shoulders.”
For these, you’ll start on your side. Prop up on your bottom elbow with your hand out in front of you for balance. The elbow should be directly under your shoulder. Next, stack your legs and bring them together so your heels touch. Lift your hips into the air by squeezing your core and glutes. If you feel balanced, try lifting your top arm towards the ceiling. Otherwise, you can rest it on your top hip. Repeat the move on the other side. To modify, keep your bottom knee on the ground for extra support.
5. Reverse Plank
You can also switch things up with a reverse plank. According to Danielle Gray, a certified personal trainer and founder of Train Like A Gymnast, these can help improve your balance since you’ll be holding yourself in an unnatural way. She notes they also improve glute strength, shoulder flexion and mobility, and core control. You’ll also work your rear deltoids, the rectus abdominis muscles, and triceps, making it a low-key arm exercise, too.
To do a reverse plank, place your hands by your hips while seated. Then, lift your hips as high as possible, keeping ribs in and your core engaged as you stretch your legs straight.
6. Single-Arm Plank
For an added challenge, Gray recommends single-arm planks. You’ll stay in the standard forearm or high plank position, but this time you’ll lift one arm horizontally to reach out in front of you. The benefits of these include improved balance, as well as all the aforementioned strength training perks.
7. Plank Leg Lifts
This type of plank is similar to the single-arm variation but uses your legs to test your balance. According to Gray, the plank leg lift also boosts your balance and strengthens your abs, forearms, anterior deltoids, obliques, lats, glutes, quads, and triceps.
Begin by pressing your fingers into the floor as you stack your shoulders over your elbows, tuck your tailbone, and pull ribs in. From there, lift one leg horizontally off the floor and alternate. Pro tip: Keep your face pointing down so you don’t strain your neck.
8. Mountain Climbers
To get your heart pumping in a plank, try mountain climbers — aka a cardio-based variation of the core exercise.
Start in high plank. Pull one knee to your chest and quickly alternate with the other knee. Kendter recommends keeping your hips down as you run your knees in and out as fast as you can.
9. Up-Down Plank
Rock your core and your arm muscles with this exercise, which is a move Gray recommends adding to your fitness routine. It’s essentially a combo of the forearm and high plank, and involves quickly alternating between the two.
Start in a high plank. Lower onto one of your forearms, then the other, all while maintaining plank form. Then, place one of your hands on the mat and straighten your arm, then do the same with your other hand, bringing you back into a high plank. Repeat and switch the arm that starts the transition with each rep.
10. Plank Hip Dips
Your obliques will also appreciate the plank hip dip, an exercise Gray loves adding to the mix. These give extra love to your side core muscles while also bringing the strengthening perks you get from traditional forearm planks.
Begin in a forearm plank. While maintaining a straight line, swivel your hips to each side. With each “dip,” your hips will reach towards the floor as you keep your face pointing down.
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