Pimp my Plank - Plank Workouts to Rock Your Core
‘Wow, I tell you what I love doing more than anything in the world – the plank’, said nobody… ever.
Ok, so maybe the plank isn’t the most exhilarating or enjoyable exercise in the world.
But there’s no denying planks are popular. In fact, they’re probably the most common method used for strengthening the core these days.
Gone are the days of sit-ups that put unnecessary pressure on the lower back. Crunches still have their place in core-toning, but the plank has been proven as the best way to exercise and tone your core muscles without damaging other areas. This explains why it has become the exercise of choice.
But, that doesn’t stop it being, well… just a tiny bit dull.
If you’re sick and tired of staring at the floor for a count of 60, with every fibre of your body telling you to collapse in a sweaty heap on the floor, then maybe it’s time to change things up a bit.
That’s why we’ve gone to town on the humble plank.
This guide will give you plenty of info on why planks are great for you and, crucially, we’ll go deep on how you can adapt them to inject a bit of variety in your core workouts.
Think pimp my plank.
Taking the plank to the next level and making it more interesting should renew your enthusiasm, as well as helping you to build solid core muscle strength.
The Power of the Plank
What is it about the plank that makes it so effective?
Glad you asked. The plank works by using the abdominal and other core (midriff) muscles to resist motion of the spine. The longer you hold the plank position, the intensity of the core workout increases.
That’s not all. When performed properly, the plank can give your shoulders, quads, and glutes a good workout too. Oh, and did we mention that they increase overall metabolism, so if you’re looking to shift a few pounds, the plank is the ideal exercise for you.
As mentioned earlier, the standard plank is a stationary core exercise, so it puts less strain on the lower back. The lack of trunk flexure and zero spine loading means that problems such as slipped discs and trapped nerves, which can result from sit-ups and poorly performed crunches, are avoided.
Finally, as well as strengthening your core, planks can also give you that chiselled six-pack that you long for. Some of the plank variations that we’ll look at later in this guide are especially good for honing and toning the abs and bringing the six-pack out of the refrigerator!
The Old Classic - Standard Front Plank
Before going through some of the plank variations you can perform as part of a core workout, it’s important to understand the fundamentals of a standard plank.
The standard front plank seems like a simple exercise, and it really is once you get the hang of it, but there are a few pointers that you should always follow to make sure you’re doing it right.
- Lie face down on the floor and raise yourself up onto your forearms and toes.
- Make sure your forearms are pressed firmly to the ground, elbows directly below your shoulders. Keeping your torso and back rigid, form a perfectly straight line from your ears to your toes. Open your legs to hip-width.
- Relax your neck and head while staring at the floor. You should feel most of the tension in your midriff, especially your abs. Don’t let your stomach sag or pelvis push upwards. Retract and align your shoulders so that they aren’t hunched upwards.
- Remain stationary in this position for a count of between 30 and 60 seconds. Don’t be tempted to hold your breath - take slow and steady breaths to maintain posture.
- Relax and recover for a moment, before repeating.
How do I know if I’m doing it right?
You should feel the burn in your abs, quads, and glutes. If you’re feeling a lot of tension in your lower back, arms or shoulders then you need to adjust your position, paying attention to the instructions outlined above.
Before attempting any of these variations, make sure that you have mastered the standard front plank as described above, as a similar position and posture is the basis for all of them.
- We recommend that you do plank exercises 2 to 3 times a week, combined with other core exercises.
- For plank variations that require repeated movement, aim for 5 to 10 reps.
- If they are stationary variations, hold them for as long as possible, aiming for somewhere between 30 and 60 seconds, before resting
- Repeat as many times as possible.
1 | Plank with Shoulder Touches
This plank variation exercises your core and glutes, as well as upper arms and chest.
- Start in the standard plank position (either full - hands and toes, or half plank – hands and knees).
- Extend your arms until straight to get into a raised plank position, keeping your back and legs straight.
- Brace your abs and glutes, maintaining a straight body.
- Steadily lift one hand off the floor, move it across your body and touch the opposite shoulder, making sure not to rotate your body at all.
- Don’t let your pelvis tilt to the floor or buttocks rise in the air.
- In a controlled motion move your hand back to the floor.
- Repeat with the other hand.
- Rest for a moment, then repeat at least five times with both arms. Aim for at least three sets.
It can be difficult to keep your body still while moving your hand. Make sure you keep your abs contracted tightly and your head facing down the whole time.
2 | Reverse plank
The reverse plank works out the abs, delts, lower back, hamstrings, and calves.
- Sit on the floor and extend your legs out in front of you with feet together, heels on the floor.
- Lean back and put your elbows on the floor directly below your shoulders, with forearms and hands flat to the ground.
- Lift your buttocks steadily from the floor while tensing your core. Look up to the ceiling as you do this and aim to get your body in a perfectly straight line from your chin to your toes.
- Keep your pelvis raised and hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds.
- Lower your buttocks to the ground, rest for a moment.
- Repeat at least five times, rest, then aim for at least three sets.
It’s important not to let your hips lower to the floor at all in the raised position, or you won’t get the desired core workout. To increase the difficulty, you can raise your arms as you lift your buttocks, into a fully raised position, still maintaining a straight line from chin to toes.
3 | Walking-out plank
The walk-out plank is a great all-around muscle workout, exercising your core, glutes, legs, shoulders, arms and chest. You’ll definitely feel the burn with this one!
- Begin in an upright standing position. Bend over at the waist and put your hands flat on the floor, just in front of your toes. Breath in deeply and contract your core.
- Slowly walk out your hands in a forward motion one-by-one until you pass the standard push-up position. Try to go far as you can stretch for maximum results.
- Pause for a moment at full stretch, checking that your back and torso are straight and abs are still tight.
- Exhale and steadily walk your hands back in until your hands are back near your toes.
- Try to repeat this at least five times for one set.
- Stand up and take a quick rest, then repeat for at least four sets.
If this is too difficult at first, try walking your hands out from a kneeling position. As your strength builds aim to progress to standing.
To add some more challenge, you can perform one or more push-ups in the extended position.
4 | Plank ‘Jumping Jacks’
A fun plank exercise that adds strength to your core, glutes, abductors and lower back.
- Start in the standard plank position, keeping your feet close together.
- Tighten your core muscles and in a quick jumping motion, spread your legs as wide as possible, remaining on your tiptoes and keeping your back and torso straight.
- Make sure you keep your upper body as steady as possible, with your head facing the floor.
- Pause for a moment, then jump your legs back in, landing in the start position.
- Repeat at least five times, rest, then aim for at least four sets.
Try not to make the jump too vigorous. Just perform a gentle leaping motion, keeping the rest of your body as still as possible. When you land, make sure that your core is still fully contracted before jumping back in.
5 | Side Plank
Intermediate to Advanced Level
The side plank works out the core, obliques, lower back and glutes.
- Lay down on your side with legs together.
- Raise your upper body on your lower forearm, making sure your elbow is directly below your shoulder.
- Place your other hand on your upper thigh. This is your starting position.
- Raise your hip away from the floor, lifting your thigh, knee, then ankle.
- Your body should now form a straight line with only your forearm and the side of your foot in contact with the floor.
- Hold your body still in the raised position for 30 to 60 seconds.
- Slowly lower your hip, thigh, and leg back to the floor.
- Repeat this at least five times, rest, then repeat for at least four sets, alternating sides with each set.
You can make this more challenging by adding in a leg raise when you’re in the raised position. Simply lift your upper leg in a straight line as far as you can with your free hand on your hip. This will give you some extra hamstring and glutes strengthening.
6 | Plank with alternating arm and leg raises
In addition to the core muscles, this exercise also works out the lower back and hamstrings.
- Start in the standard plank position.
- Keeping your back and torso braced, lift one arm and the opposite leg. Raise your arm up directly in front of you in straight line slightly above parallel with the floor. Keep your leg perfectly straight and raise it up to about 30o angle above parallel with the floor.
- Hold your arm and leg in this position for a moment, keeping your torso and back still and don’t allow your pelvis to lower towards the floor.
- Steadily return your arm and leg to the starting position.
- Repeat with the other arm and leg.
If you struggle with this exercise at first, try a half plank starting position with knees on the ground. If you feel any pain or excess discomfort in your lower back, stop immediately and adjust your starting position.