The pursuit of a strong core often seems like a lifelong ordeal. But regardless of whether your abs are visible, there are many reasons to focus on strengthening your core.
And one of the best ways to get the job done? Planks.
Love ’em or hate ’em, planks are a supercharged way to tighten your core and shape your waistline. Many experts now recommend planking rather than crunches or situps, since planks put less strain on your spine and hip flexors.
Plus, a plank will strengthen your back, glutes, hamstrings, arms, and shoulders at the same time. That’s a lot of gain for just 30–60 seconds of your time.
Whether you’re an expert or a beginner, there are many variations of the plank to help you build a strong core.
This article provides 15 plank variations, ordered from easiest to hardest, to strengthen your core.
If you’re new to planks or haven’t done them in a long time, you may want to start with a modified version of the forearm plank.
This takes pressure off your lower back and will still give you a great core workout. Over time, you can progress to the traditional forearm plank.
- Lie on your stomach with your forearms on the floor. Be sure your elbows are directly under your shoulders.
- Press your forearms into the floor and raise your torso off the floor while keeping your knees, toes, and elbows touching the floor. Keep your core tight and your neck in neutral position (avoid looking up or down), and avoid lifting your hips or dropping them by tucking in your pelvis.
- While engaging your glutes, hold this position for 30 seconds, or as long as you can while maintaining proper form.
Pro tip: While it’s not required, you may wish to use a yoga mat if it’s more comfortable for your elbows and knees.
A step up from the knee plank is the straight-arm knee plank. This requires a bit more arm and core strength but is easier to perform than a traditional plank.
- Lie on your stomach with your arms bent at your sides, hands directly under your shoulders, and palms flat on the floor.
- Press your hands into the floor to lift your torso and straighten your arms. Keep your knees partially bent and touching the floor. Aim to have your wrists aligned with your shoulders, core tight, and neck in neutral position (avoid looking up or down).
- Hold this for 30 seconds, or as long as you can while maintaining proper form.
If you’re ready to plank without modifications, the forearm plank is a great way to really feel the burn.
- Lie on the floor and place your forearms directly under your shoulders.
- Slowly lift your torso off the floor by pressing into your forearms and knees. Contract your core as you raise up, and maintain a neutral neck and spine.
- Tuck your toes under and lift your knees so that your body forms a straight line.
- Hold this for 20–30 seconds, building up to 1 minute or longer. According to Guinness World Records, the longest forearm plank was held for 9 and a half hours (2)!
Pro tip: Let your gaze fall toward your mat, approximately 1 foot in front of you, so your neck is in a neutral position.
As you build up your strength, try increasing the difficulty by transitioning to a straight-arm plank, also known as a full plank.
- Start on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees slightly behind your hips.
- Push your hands into the floor and raise one knee at a time off the floor. Straighten both legs, so you’re in a straight line from heels to head. Your body should look as if you’re in the upward position of a pushup. Ensure that your hands and shoulders are aligned, legs are strong, feet are hip-width apart, and core is engaged.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds or longer — as long as you can maintain proper form.
You already know how to do a traditional plank, but transitioning between forearm and full plank is a great way to progress your workout.
- Start in forearm plank position.
- Straighten one arm at a time to lift yourself into the full plank. Try this slowly at first to perfect the transition. Place your hands where your elbows were so that your hands are directly under your shoulders in high plank.
- Return to forearm plank position by slowly bending one arm and then the other.
- Continue this for 30 seconds for 1 set, performing 2–3 sets total. As you progress, pick up the pace according to your comfort level.
Pro-tip: Engage your core to minimize swaying of your hips as you alternate positions.
- Lie on one side with your legs almost straight and your hips, knees, and feet stacked. Ensure that your elbow is directly under your shoulder, with your forearm flat. Lift your other arm straight into the air (or keep it at your side if this is too difficult).
- Push your hand and forearm into the floor to lift your torso. Maintain a tight core and keep your hips lifted, straightening your legs fully. Your body should be close to a straight line.
- Try to hold this position for 20–30 seconds, then switch sides.
Pro tip: To make it easier, keep your knees touching the floor while you hold the rest of your body up. To modify with knees on the floor, your knees should be bent with your feet pointed back to avoid putting strain on your knees.
Alternatively, you can increase the difficulty and build greater stability with variations such as straightening your arm or raising and lowering your hips.
Walking sideways with your plank will strengthen your core as well as your upper and lower body muscle groups. These include the deltoids, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and even calves.
- Start in a full plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders. Activate your glutes and abs to prevent injury and gain maximum benefit.
- Begin to shift laterally (to the side) by simultaneously moving your right hand and foot to the right.
- Lift your left hand and foot to meet in the center and return to the plank position.
- Complete 5 steps to the right and then 5 to the left for 1 set. Try to complete 3–5 sets, or as many as you can safely perform in 1 minute.
Pro tip: Take your time with this move to ensure proper form and to target your muscles effectively. Be sure to keep your core tight the entire time.
Planks with shoulder taps work several muscle groups, including your hip flexors, abs, back, glutes, hamstrings, and quads.
This move adds an extra challenge to the traditional straight-arm plank.
- Start in a traditional straight-arm plank position. Widen your legs for more stability, if needed.
- Keeping your core tight, lift your right hand off the floor and touch your left shoulder. Then, return your right hand to the floor.
- Lift your left hand and touch your right shoulder.
- Continue to alternate hands for 20–30 seconds.
Avoid rotating your shoulders or hips during this movement. The goal is to keep your body in a straight line.
Pro tip: If this is too difficult, start on your knees (straight-arm knee plank) or take a wider stance. To increase the difficulty, bring your feet together. This makes it harder to maintain stability.
This full-body exercise targets several muscle groups, including your glutes, hamstrings, abs, obliques, triceps, and shoulders. Instead of facing downward, you will position yourself with your stomach toward the ceiling.
- Sit tall on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Place your hands behind you on the floor, with your fingertips pointed toward your feet.
- Engage your glutes, core, and arms to lift your hips, forming a straight line from heels to shoulders. Ensure that your shoulders are drawn down, away from your ears. Avoid dipping your hips by slightly tucking your pelvis.
- Hold this for 20–30 seconds, or as long as you can while maintaining proper form.
Pro tip: If you want an even greater challenge, add a leg raise: While holding your reverse plank, bend at the hip and lift your right leg up toward the ceiling. Be sure to keep your hips stable and upper body strong while lifting. Return your leg to the floor with control and repeat with the other leg.
To make it easier, place your hands on an elevated surface such as a step or bench.
Try these “Spider-Man” planks to feel the burn in your obliques, abs, and lower body.
- Start in full plank position.
- Pull your right knee toward the outside of your right elbow and then push it back to return to a plank position. Make sure your knee is open out to the side, so your inner thigh hovers over the floor as you move your leg.
- Exhale as your knee comes forward and inhale as you push it back.
- Start with 8–12 reps on each side. Aim for up to 20 reps on each side as you get stronger.
Pro tip: Take your time. This move is all about proper form and controlled movement. Maintain proper form by keeping your hips elevated, and avoid swaying side to side.
This is another move that will target your obliques.
- Start in full plank position.
- Lift one leg and pull your knee toward the opposite elbow.
- Push your leg back to the starting plank position. Be sure to keep your abs and glutes tight throughout the exercise.
- Continue alternating sides for 20–30 seconds, or as long as you can maintain proper form. Aim for 2–3 sets.
Pro tip: Try your best to keep your spine and pelvis neutral, as much as possible.
This is an excellent full-body workout that targets your upper body, core, and lower body.
- Grab two dumbbells of your choice (if you’re new to working out, start with a light weight to ensure proper form).
- Get into full plank position with each hand gripping a dumbbell.
- With your right arm, lift the dumbbell to the side of your waist or toward your hip to perform 1 row.
- Return the dumbbell to the starting position.
- Perform 1 row with your opposite arm.
- Complete 8–12 reps on each side. Aim to do 2–3 sets.
Pro tip: Keeping your core engaged the entire time will help you perform the dumbbell row with control. If you’re swaying your body to lift the dumbbell, try using a lighter dumbbell. You can also do this exercise with no weights at all. If your opposite leg lifts off the floor, use a lighter dumbbell and keep your glutes tight.
Mountain climbers activate your whole body. They’re a really effective exercise with a burst of cardio. Be sure to keep your wrists, arms, and shoulders stacked throughout the exercise.
- Start in full plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders.
- Place your hands slightly wider than your shoulders and use your upper body and pelvis to stabilize yourself.
- Keeping your core engaged, lift your right foot off the floor and bring your right knee toward your chest. Avoid rotating your hips or shoulders. Return to the starting position and do the same with your left knee.
- Continue this movement for 20–30 seconds, or as long as you can maintain proper form.
Pro tip: As you become more comfortable, you can pick up speed. The faster you go, the more cardiovascular benefit you gain — but be sure to still safely maintain proper form.
Plank jacks get your heart pumping during your strength routine.
- Start in a forearm plank or high plank.
- Jump both feet outward, wider than hip-distance apart.
- Immediately hop them back into the original plank position.
- Aim to complete 2–3 sets of 30 seconds, or as long as you can maintain proper form.
Pro tip: Throughout the exercise, be careful not to raise or lower your hips out of the straight-line position.
Swiss ball jackknives are also excellent for building strength and stability. However, this is considered an advanced move and should be done with caution.
- Start in full plank position with your lower legs or feet on an exercise ball. The farther the ball is from your head, the harder the exercise will be. Activate your abs to maintain stability and align your spine.
- Gently lift your hips by engaging your core and pushing through your shoulders. Roll the ball forward with your feet, pulling your knees toward you. Be careful not to drop your hips or round your back.
- Extend your legs, rolling the ball back, to return to the starting plank position. Be sure to keep your shoulders directly over your wrists throughout the exercise.
- Due to the difficulty of this move, you may be able to perform only a few reps at a time. Continue to increase the number of reps as you gain strength.
Pro tip: Moving the ball farther away from your center increases the challenge for your abs. Aim to initiate the move from your lower abs, not your hip flexors.
Planks are an excellent strength workout to add to your fitness routine.
Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced exerciser, there are many plank variations you can try.
With these variations, you can keep challenging yourself and building your stability and strength to help prevent injury and improve your overall health.
Disclaimer: Some of these are more advanced, so use your own judgment about whether a move is right for you. Remember, good form is critical for reducing injury and ensuring that your body benefits from the exercise. Be sure to consult your physician before starting any new workout program, and a certified trainer or strength coach if you need help with form.