15 Plank Variations to Strengthen Your Core and Help You Support Your Big Lifts
Too many people go about building core strength the wrong way. They sit all day working with a rounded back and then head to the gym to put themselves in more flexion through countless sit-ups and crunches. At that point, it’s only a matter of time before your lower back gets angry at you.
On the surface, it’s a smart thought — with most muscles you train, you want to flex and contract it through a certain range of motion. But comprehensive core training means working toward stability and multi-directional strength, not just flexion. If you’re a serious lifter hoisting barbells off the ground and over your head, you can never get enough core stability.
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That’s why planks are never going out of style. When done right, they don’t just improve midline stability. Planks and their variations also strengthen your glutes and quads while targeting the rectus abdominis, which can improve posture, reduce back pain, and increase balance. These aren’t the only core exercises you should have in your rotation. But for their sheer versatility and do-anywhere-ness, it’s worth fitting some solid plank sessions into your program.
Best Plank Variations
- Incline Plank
- Decline Plank
- RKC Plank
- Weighted Plank
- Side Plank
- Side Plank with Rotation
- Isometric Bird Dog
- Extended Plank
- X Plank
- Fingertip Plank
- Suspension Trainer Plank
- Stability Ball Side Plank
- TRX Body Saw
- Front Plank With Shoulder Tap
- Stability Ball Breathing Front Plank
The incline plank, like an incline push-up, is a scaled version of the original. It requires a little less stability and puts more emphasis on the middle muscles of your abs.
Because of the incline, you’re supporting less body weight. That means you’ll be able to build core strength if you have trouble holding the regular front plank for 30 seconds or more.
Benefits of the Incline Plank
- This is a more accessible version of the floor front plank to help develop core strength.
- The incline plank focuses on the middle muscles of your core.
- You’ll learn how to keep your shoulders, hips, and glutes in a line regardless of the angle of your body.
How to Do the Incline Plank
Kneel in front of a weight bench. Place your elbows on the weight bench. Make sure your shoulders and elbows are aligned. Straighten your legs, engage your glutes, and hold for the desired time.
The decline plank places little more stress on the lower abs than the rest of your "six-pack" muscles. Since your lower abs are often neglected, and since the decline puts more stress on your shoulders, this "beginner" front plank exercise can wind up surprisingly hard to maintain.
Because your feet will be elevated, your upper body will be under a bit more pressure. So make sure your wrists and shoulders are thoroughly warmed up before you get after this one.
Benefits of the Decline Plank
- This variation emphasizes the oft-neglected lower abs.
- You might find this a natural progression to perform after you have mastered the floor front plank.
- You’ll build extra shoulder and wrist strength because of the angle of decline.
How to Do the Decline Plank
Get on your hands and knees with a weight bench behind you. Straighten your legs and place each foot on the weight bench. Get your elbows underneath your shoulders. Engage your glutes to keep your lower back neutral. Hold for the desired time. You can make this more difficult by performing a toe tap back down to the ground one at a time.
This is not your everyday front plank. It’s accessible to people who’ve mastered front planks because it physically requires the same position — but it raises the stakes quite a bit. By creating tension with your upper and lower body, the RKC plank turns this into a total-body challenge from head-to-toe. Maintaining this version of the plank for longer than 10 seconds calls for your all-out effort.
This exercise fixes the main potential problem with planks, which is a lack of deep core activation over an extended period. By tightening every muscle you can, you’ll be maximizing core engagement and bringing in muscles from all over your body, as well.
Benefits of the RKC Plank
- The entire core region works as a unit to create tension, which improves your overall strength.
- You’ll strengthen the deep muscles that surround the spine (erectors) and core (transverse abdominals), which improves your ability to keep your spine neutral under load.
- This move will teach and reinforce deep, disciplined breathing, which bodes well for lifters interested in holding air pressure braces during heavy lifts.
How to Do the RKC Plank
Start in the front plank position with your elbows underneath your shoulders. Clench your hands in fists. Pull your shoulders down and in. Squeeze your quads and glutes as hard as you can. Pull your shoulders towards your toes and your toes towards your head. Take deep breaths through your belly in and out. Use your breaths as reps.
The weighted plank is also called the plank plus. When the regular front plank and its variations are not challenging you anymore, placing the weight directly over your core will up the ante for sure.
There are two ways to go about this. One is to get a partner to put a weight plate on your back or put the plate on yourself before getting into a front plank.
Benefits of the Weighted Plank
- This is a simple — but not easy — way to progressively overload your plank.
- The weighted plank helps you improve your ability to keep a neutral spine under load.
- Performing weighted planks increases your time under weighted tension, which can help translate into stronger barbell lifts.
How to Do the Weighted Plank
Place a weight plate on your lower to middle back while lying prone. Get up on your toes. Keep your elbows directly underneath your shoulders. Prop yourself into the front plank position. Engage your glutes to put your lower back in neutral. Hold for the desired time.
Side planks are an exercise everyone loves to hate, but their benefits are undeniable. They train almost every muscle from your head to your toes, including your lower back.
The lower back muscles surrounding your spine will contract isometrically to keep your spine neutral. Because gravity isn’t directly acting on your spine, this is a great exercise to strengthen the lower back if you’re experiencing lower back pain.
Benefits of the Side Plank
- Side planks strengthen the quadratus lumborum, a muscle that plays an important role in preventing lower back pain.
- This move helps strengthen your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors, and abductors, which play a role in strengthening the spine and pelvic area while protecting it from injury.
- The side plank leads to a more stable and stiffer core, which is then better able to transfer power from your lower to your upper body.
How to Do the Side Plank
Lie on your left or right side with your knees straight and your elbow directly underneath your shoulder. Prop your body up on your elbow and forearm. Raise your opposite hand until it’s perpendicular to your torso. Align your feet, knees, and hips together. Brace your core and raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from your ankles to your shoulders. Hold for time.
Side Plank with Rotation
The rotational component of this side plank variation makes this exercise both a static and dynamic one. This further strengthens your obliques, which comes in handy when you want to maintain anti-rotational strength during big lifts.
Because your weight is rolling forward, this trains the isometric, concentric, and eccentric contractions all at once.
Benefits of the Side Plank with Rotation
- This move improves your balance across your whole body.
- You’ll be able to train thoracic mobility and core stability at the same time.
- Side planks with rotations target your obliques.
How to Do the Side Plank with Rotation
Set up in your side plank. Form a straight line from your shoulder to your foot. Extend your opposite arm up above your shoulder. Rotate your torso down towards the floor. Reach under your torso with your arm. Using a light dumbbell is optional. Rotate back to the starting position. Repeat for reps or time.
Isometric Bird Dog
Simply lifting two limbs off the ground into the bird dog position is a terrific way to ramp up your front plank. It’s much better at challenging your balance, kinesthetic awareness, coordination, and low back strength.
For extra difficulty, try adding movement by bringing your knee and elbow together or performing the exercise with straight arms.
Benefits of the Isometric Bird Dog
- Holding the bird dog position isometrically unilaterally challenges your strength, balance, and coordination.
- Improve your core strength while reducing any imbalances between sides.
- This move is a major unilateral progression from the regular plank that you can perform with just your bodyweight.
How to Do the Isometric Bird Dog
Get into the six-point position. Put your knees under your hips, hands underneath your shoulders, and toes on the ground. Extend your left leg behind you and your right arm in front of you. Push your left hand into the floor. Hold for the desired time. Repeat on the other side.
It’s tough enough to hold a regular plank with your hands under your shoulders. Extending your arms to form the extended plank is even tougher. The extended plank places more stress on your upper back and upper abs to maintain a neutral spine position.
Here, you’ll gain strength in the extended position — which is much more compromising for your shoulders — to further enhance your overall core strength.
Benefits of the Extended Plank
- You’ll gain a lot more strength in a lengthened (or eccentric) position.
- By emphasizing an eccentric position, extended planks can help build muscle.
- This variation will help you build stability in extremely unstable positions.
How to Do the Extended Plank
Start with your hands underneath your shoulders in the push-up position. Slowly walk them out in front of you as you get closer and closer to the floor. Squeeze both your glutes and abs to keep your back straight and to prevent your hips from sagging. Hold for the allotted time. Walk your hands underneath your shoulders to finish.
With the X plank, you are moving the base of support away from your core. This forces your muscles to work harder to stabilize the body and keep your spine neutral. This variation is tougher on your shoulders and elbows so if you have any issues with those, it is best to stay away from this one.
If you’re daring, you can combine this with the extended plank, moving back and forth between the positions.
Benefits of the X Plank
- Your core muscles are forced to work harder in this variation because of the reduced base of support.
- This move builds strength in your anterior shoulders and biceps.
- You’ll keep your hands in an unusual orientation during this variation, which can help build forearm strength and wrist flexibility.
How to Do the X Plank
Get into a push-up plank position with your hands underneath your shoulders. Engage your glutes. Walk each hand out to the side until there is a slight bend in your elbows. Point your fingers away from you. Hold for the desired time. Slowly walk your hands back underneath your shoulders to finish.
Hand strength is arguably the most important kind of functional strength and the fingertip plank will help here. It can result in everything from heavier deadlifts to finally opening that problem pickle jar.
The fingertip plank will help you build grip and core strength but remember that you don’t want to be all the way on the tips of your fingers. Instead, be on the pads of your fingers with the tips slightly bent back.
Benefits of the Fingertip Plank
- This variation builds massive finger strength, which can be difficult to train specifically.
- The fingertip plank can also be used to increase forearm strength and wrist health.
- You’ll get great carryover to grip-intense exercises like deadlifts, carries, and pull-ups.
How to Do the Fingertip Plank
Place your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees on the ground. Open up your hands and plant your fingertips on the ground. Extend your legs behind you. Engage your glutes and abs. Hold for time.
Suspension Trainer Plank
The suspension trainer plank has you loop your hands inside the handles of a suspension trainer to feel your abs working instantly. The inherent wobbliness of the suspension trainer throws your body into an unstable position.
The instability of the lift forces your core to work harder to maintain a neutral spine position. If you’re game, move your hands backward and forwards for more core action.
Benefits of the Suspension Trainer Plank
- The instability of the suspension forces your core to work harder to maintain a neutral position.
- You can easily scale this move by adjusting the strap height.
- You’ll build powerful, stable shoulders with this move, too.
How to Do the Suspension Trainer Plank
Adjust the strap height to your desired intensity. Grip the handles tightly. Extend your legs behind you to get in the plank position. Engage your glutes and core to keep a neutral spine. Hold for time. Drop to your knees to finish safely.
Stability Ball Side Plank
The addition of the stability ball makes the side planks even tougher (if you can imagine that). The ball messes with your balance, and because your ankles, knees, and hips are not stacked, it further reduces your stability.
Keeping the ball between your legs strengthens your adductors, which is important for injury prevention. Hip adductor strength is one of the most common risk factors for groin injury in sports — so this can be an important part of your injury prevention game. (1)
Benefits of the Stability Ball Side Plank
- This move helps prevent groin strains by strengthening the adductors.
- You’ll strengthen the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors, and abductors.
- This exercise leads to a more stable and stiffer core that can better transfer power throughout your body during big lifts.
How to Do the Stability Ball Side Plank
Place a stability ball between your ankles and calf muscles, making sure it’s firmly in place. Place your elbow underneath your shoulder. Use your opposite hand to push yourself into a side plank. Raise this hand above your shoulder. Squeeze your glutes and hold for time. Keep your time even on both sides.
TRX Body Saw
Adding movement and instability to the front plank position will help you build a greater level of core strength compared to the regular plank. The TRX body saw does this in spades.
Your feet will be unstable through the movement, meaning you’ll need your core and upper body to work overtime to keep you steady. The body saw also engages other secondary muscles like your deltoids, glutes, and hip flexors, making it more than just a core exercise.
Benefits of the TRX Body Saw
- This move strengthens your shoulders, glutes, hip flexors, and core.
- The instability of the TRX engages your body right away for increased time under tension.
- Keeping your feet in an unstable position makes your core work overtime.
How to Do the TRX Body Saw
Get into the front plank position. Place your feet into the straps. Rest on your forearms. Engage your glutes and core. Prop your body up, keeping your abs and glutes braced. Drive your body back and forth while keeping your back neutral.
Front Plank with Shoulder Tap
The front plank with a shoulder tap is a full-body core exercise that trains your chest and core at the same time. Every time you take one hand off the ground, your whole body has to stabilize, including your chest.
Being stronger in the front plank position will only help you do more push-ups. How? Because the push-up is basically a moving plank.
Benefits of the Front Plank with Shoulder Tap
- This move trains your chest, hip flexors, abs, back, glutes, hamstrings, and quads as a unit.
- You’ll improve anti-rotational core strength with each rep.
- Strengthening the front plank position helps you to be able to perform more push-ups.
How to Do the Front Plank with Shoulder Tap
Begin in a front plank position, with your wrists under your shoulders and your feet hip-width apart. Squeeze your glutes and quads to get your spine neutral. Touch your left shoulder with your right hand without rotating at your hips. Return to the starting position. Touch your right shoulder with your left hand. Alternate sides for the desired reps.
Stability Ball Breathing Front Plank
The stability ball front plank increases your ability to recruit more muscle units without an increase in load. This is due to the greater activation of your core muscles. (2)
When you add breathing to this equation, the deep inhales and exhales not only help stren
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