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Most Effective Plank Variations

min read

By Emily Lockhart

Medically Reviewed by Eric Leckie, PT

Forget the crunches! If you want rock solid abdominals then you should be all about the plank. As far as exercises go, you get the best bang for your ab-rocking buck with planks because this single hold is all about building “isometric strength”, which refers to strength building exercises where you hold a move by contracting your muscles yet don’t actually move a muscle.

The plank can also be considered an exercise that engages multiple muscles—including the shoulders, triceps, biceps, forearms, back, hammies, and even the glutes—if you choose to mix these plank variations into your workout routine…

Plank with Straight Arms

This straight-arm plank holds your body in the up position of a pushup. So if you’ve ever done a pushup, you’re already familiar with what it feels like to hold your body in the top pushup position.

For those who aren’t, you can start lying face down with arms bent and hands at shoulder width. Legs should be extended with toes at hip width. Push up simultaneously through the hands and toes as you contract the abs and legs. Keep your body (butt down) and straight as you can.

Side Plank

Is it just me, or is side plank a really happy pose? It’s like waving a big happy, hello to the day! For side plank, take straight arm plank position.

Then pressing your right hand into the mat, turn your body to support your weight on the outer edge of the right foot. Keep your torso up by tightening the abs and stack your left foot either in front of the right or stack it on top of the right foot. Finally, extend the left arm straight up to the ceiling with palm facing forward and fingers pointed up. Hold for a minute and repeat on left side.

The Forearm Plank

The tried and true forearm plank is a classic plank that’s often used by beginners. Why? Because planking on the strength of the forearms can offer a sturdier base until you work up strength in your wrists.

Perform a forearm plank by lying prone with legs extended in pushup position. Bend your elbows so they sit right under your shoulders. If your unsure about the spacing, you should be able to comfortably clasp your hands. Tuck the toes and push up on your forearms. Hold this plank for a minute and gradually add time with strength.

Knee Tuck Planks

This move begins in a straight arm plank with wrists positioned under the shoulders and feet hip-width apart, in an upward pushup position.

When ready, bend your left knee, bringing it forward (as you rotate your waist slightly) and diagonal towards your right elbow, hold for 30-seconds and return your foot parallel to the mat. You can repeat this plank on the right side, and also by bringing each knee up to meet the elbow on the same side.

Single Legged Plank

Now for a real test of balance and core strength. Start in classic straight arm plank.

Now lift the right leg straight and up, reaching the toes behind you. Lower leg and foot back down. Now repeat using left leg.

Dolphin Plank

The yogi in me loves this move because it utilizes the yoga dolphin pose (or Ardha Pincha Mayurasana), which strengthens the core, arms, and legs, and also offers a nice shoulder opener.

To do a dolphin plank first take forearm plank. Once steady, using your abdominals and glutes, raise the buttocks up to the ceiling, bringing the legs and feet forward so the weight shifts into your forearms working the back, abs, and shoulders.

Straight Arm Plank with Alternating Leg Lift

Now we’re working in the fancy footwork…I mean leg work…with alternating right then left leg lifts in a straight arm plank pose.

Simply follow the instructions for a straight arm plank (in our first slide) and once you’re in a solid plank, lift your right leg, keeping your leg straight and contracting through your hamstrings, glutes, and core. Hold for 30-seconds. Bring the foot back down into classic plank form, then slowly lift the left and hold.

Alternating Limb Extension Planks

This move builds on the straight arm plank and calls on the core, legs, and arms in a total-body muscle burning exercise.

To perform start in classic straight-arm plank. Keeping the spine straight and abdominals engaged, raise your right arm up straight, hand and fingers reaching forward in line with your ear. At the same time lift the left leg straight back, toes reaching behind you. Hold 30-seconds then return foot and hand to floor. Alternate and hold using left arm and right leg.

DPT, Doctor of Physiotherapy

Eric Leckie is a men's health Physiotherapist specializing in prostate cancer treatment. He completed his studies in Australia earning his Doctor of Physiotherapy from the University of Melbourne. He currently works in a private practice, in addition to owning his own Telehealth Physiotherapy clinic which focuses on treating men with prostate cancer.

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