One of the core’s most important jobs is to maintain stability as forces try to act on it—to keep you stable, upright, and in a good position even as you get pushed and pulled and poked and prodded from all angles. While most people think of doing sit-ups, crunches, leg lifts, and bicycles when they want to build their core strength, one of the most effective exercises for developing a stronger core is the standard plank.
But planks get boring. And sometimes, a basic plank isn’t providing the right amount of stimulus to the right spots for your goals. That’s when you turn to plank variations that make the exercise more interesting, target different tissues, and force different adaptations.
Here are ten of the best plank variations on the standard plank.
This exercise helps strengthen your core, and improves stability and posture without being quite so intense as the standard plank. It’s probably the best place for someone to start who’s never done a plank before and worries about their ability to perform one. To perform this, position your elbows directly below your shoulders and raise your body off the ground, supporting your weight on your forearms and knees. Your body should form a straight line from head to knees. Try to hold this position for as long as you can.
Muscles hit: Engages the transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, and obliques, along with the glutes, shoulders. Because of the knee resting position, the quads are mostly taken out of it.
This variation is essentially the top of a push-up position. It targets the core, but also engages the shoulders, chest, and quads. Start in a push-up position with your palms flat on the ground, hands shoulder-width apart, and arms straight. Your body should form a straight line from head to heels.
Muscles hit: The high plank hits all the same muscles as the standard plank with a bit more emphasis on the upper body, including the shoulders and triceps.
This variation targets the obliques, the muscles on the side of your torso. Begin on your side with your feet together and one forearm directly below your shoulder. Raise your hips until your body is straight from head to feet. Hold this position without letting your hips drop. Repeat on the other side.
Muscles hit: The side plank is very good at targeting the obliques.
Shoulder Tap Plank
Adding shoulder taps to a high plank can increase the intensity of the exercise and engage your upper body more actively. From a high plank position, lift one hand off the ground and tap your opposite shoulder. Keep your core engaged and try to avoid rocking your hips.
Muscles hit: The shoulder tap places some engagement on the deltoids, but most of it comes from forcing the core musculature to support the movement and lack of support from the arm.
Plank with Knee to Opposite Elbow
This plank variation not only targets your core, but also works your lower body. From a high plank position, bring one knee up towards the elbow on the opposite side. Return to the starting position and repeat with the other leg.
Muscles hit: This is a real ab shredder.
Imagine Spiderman crawling along a skyscraper and you’ll get the feel for this variation, which can help increase hip mobility and core strength—particularly the serratus and transverse abdominis From a high plank position, bring one knee out to the side, trying to touch your elbow. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
Muscles hit: The obliques and hip flexors are hardest hit, while there’s also intense activation of the transverse abdominis and rectus abdominis (which can be difficult to train directly).
This plank variation targets the posterior chain muscles, including the glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and triceps. Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Place your palms on the floor behind you, fingers pointing towards your feet. Push through your palms and lift your hips and torso towards the ceiling.
Muscles hit: Perhaps the most unique variation, the reverse plank targets the posterior chain, including the glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and triceps, but also works the anterior deltoids and pectorals. There’s less “direct” activation of the core musculature.
This plank variation challenges your balance and engages your core even more intensively. From a high plank position, lift one foot off the ground and hold. Keep your body steady and your hips level. Try switching to lifting one hand off the ground and hold while keeping both feet down.
You can also try the Two-Point Plank, where you alternate between lifting left elbow/right foot and right elbow/left foot.
Muscles hit: In addition to the core muscles which are hit from a unique angle and bias, the gluteus medius and minimus on the lifted leg’s side also activate to support the leg.
This is a dynamic plank variation that combines cardiovascular exercise with strength training. From a high plank position, jump your feet out wide like you’re doing a jumping jack, then back together.
If that’s too easy, try jumping out your hands as well.
Muscles hit: The transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, and obliques are all engaged along with the glutes and hip abductors. The tibialis (shin bone) anterior also helps absorb the impact.
This plank variation provides a full body workout, particularly engaging the shoulders and core. Start in a high plank position. Lower one elbow to the ground, then the other, coming into a forearm plank. Then, place one hand on the ground, then the other, pushing back up into a high plank.
Muscles hit: The dynamic movement between high and forearm plank position engages the triceps, pectorals, and deltoids plus smaller stabilizer muscles of the shoulder girdle in addition to the normal core muscles targeted by planks.
I hope you enjoy some of these variations. Let me know in comment section which ones you do!
About the Author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.