Plank Exercises and Variations

Tamsen Butler
man and woman planking

Everyone wants tight abs and a strong core, and the plank exercise is one of the best ways to do that. A plank can be one of the most powerful exercises to build core strength and is easily modified. As you progress in your plank-holding abilities, there are numerous variations you can try to increase the resistance by reducing the stability of the position.

Basic Plank Instructions

Start with a basic plank pose. To prevent injury, it's important to pay attention to the placement of your arms and feet. Try to hold the plank as long as you can, aiming in the beginning for 30 seconds in the beginning, progressing up to 2-3 minutes eventually. Planks should be incorporated into resistance workouts as they are strength-building, bodyweight exercises.

  1. Sit upon your knees with your feet underneath you. For comfort, you may want to do this on a yoga mat.
  2. Lean forward to place your forearms beneath you, flat on the mat or floor. Be sure to keep your elbows close together, as your arms will be supporting much of your weight.
  3. Step your feet backward, lengthening your body into a plank pose. Your feet should be around hip-width apart.
  4. Slowly, lift up your body with your forearms and toes, keeping your back rigid. Hold your abdominal muscles, or your "core," very tight.
  5. Pay special attention to your shoulders and upper back. You should not hold this part of your body too rigidly, as it will create tension.
  6. Keep breathing through the hold, taking care to not hold your breath (a very common mistake for beginners).
Woman doing a basic plank

Making a Plank Easier

Regressing a plank to make it easier is a great idea for beginners or those who find a basic plank too difficult due to injuries or lack of strength or endurance. Try some of these modifications to start building strength in the muscles that will eventually help you in performing a basic plank.

  • Instead of being on your toes, prop your lower body up on your knees. Push your weight into your hands, pushing your weight toward your upper body. Alternatively, you can drop one knee down and keep one leg up.
  • The wider your feet placement, the wider your base of support. Try placing your feet wider than hip-width apart for more stabilization.
  • If a low plank (elbows down as described in the instructions above) feels uncomfortable, try being up on your hands (high plank).

Making a Plank Harder

Once a basic plank feels easy, it's time to make some small adjustments to make it more difficult. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Extend one arm forward and the opposite leg backward - or do just an arm or just a leg.
  • Prop one foot on top of the other, significantly decreasing your base of support.
  • Rock your body forward and backward slightly and smoothly, increasing the need for stabilization.
  • Have your workout buddy place a weight plate on your back while you hold the plank.
  • Place your feet on a chair, step, or in TRX bands while holding your plank.

Plank Variations

There are a variety of planks to try once you've mastered the basic plank. The variations below can be quite challenging but helps build core strength and stamina.

Rolling Plank

This plank isn't held static - it requires stabilization as you move.

  1. From a basic elbow plank position, shift your weight to the right side and draw your left elbow up toward the ceiling.
  2. Hold this side plank for a moment before returning to your original basic plank.
  3. Shift your weight to the left side, drawing your right elbow up.
  4. Repeat, alternating sides, while holding your core tight.

Reverse Plank

This plank is done from a supine position (stomach toward ceiling) instead of a prone position (stomach toward the floor).

  1. Sit on a mat with your legs outstretched in front of you.
  2. Place your hands on the mat behind you, under your shoulders.
  3. Push into your hands while drawing your glutes upward.
  4. Find a position where your body is straight like a surfboard, with your hands and heels touching the mat but the rest of your body off the mat.
  5. To progress this exercise, pull one foot up toward the ceiling.
Woman doing a reverse plank

Lateral Plank Walk

A plank doesn't have to stay in one place; this plank includes lateral movement requiring core strength and coordination.

  1. Assume a basic plank position on your hands (high plank). This can be done on elbows, but doing it on hands is a little more comfortable.
  2. Step out your right foot at the same time as you "step" your right hand out laterally.
  3. Allow your left foot and hand to follow, creating a lateral movement.
  4. Alternate directions, or count your "steps" to keep the movement even. A good suggestion is four steps to the right followed by four steps to the left.

Pike Plank

This moving plank requires extra stability to support the movement. It's a good idea to time the movement to your breathing, such as inhaling in the basic plank followed by exhaling in the pike movement.

  1. Start in the basic plank position on your hands (high plank).
  2. Smoothly transition into a downward facing dog position, pushing your hips up toward the ceiling.
  3. Move back into the basic plank position.
  4. Repeat this sequence.
Woman practicing yoga

Build Strength With Planks

Plank exercises are one of the best ways to get strong abdominal muscles. It's important to create a workout you can repeat on a regular basis (two or three times per week). It is often a mistake to attempt a routine so advanced you cannot do it again for several days. Those who are just starting out should build up to more advanced routines slowly to get the best results.

Plank Exercises and Variations