How To Progress Planks (10 Advanced Plank Variations)
Use these advanced plank variations to take your training up a notch! Learn how to progress planks to target and challenge your core as well as common planking mistakes many people make. The plank exercise is an amazing choice when it comes to bodyweight workouts you can do anywhere. While most people believe that planks are strictly for abs and “core”, when done correctly they actually target your entire body. But what do you do after you learn to plank? You start trying some awesome plank variations of course!
Don’t want to read? JUMP to the variations!
Pre-requisites Of The Plank & How Long You Should Be Able To Hold A Plank For
When it comes to core training, the plank is a great tool to use in an assessment. But most people butcher the exercise. In fact, it’s one of the gold standards I use as a personal trainer (learn more about my training business Fit Just For You here).
New clients have to work up to holding the sixty-second plank without excessive shaking or torso sagging before they can progress to any plank variations exercise making them harder.
In fact, before they try and variations of plank, they also have to pass an anti-rotation test, a scapulothoracic test and a lumbopelvic hip complex test. But I probably lost you in all that mumbo jumbo, right?
The point is, the “core” (or what’s referred to as the core) isn’t just about the abs but about the entire torso and how it works together to create movement (or resist movement) and transfer force between the upper and lower body.
Meaning, you could have a super-strong plank in terms of not extending through the low back, but you’re unable to retract your shoulders which means from a full-body approach you have some work to do before trying anything too badass.
Not only does this give everyone a starting point and baseline but it also prepares them to remain injury-free. A weak core, in any of it’s areas, will eventually cause injury and discomfort.
Tips On How To Perform A Plank
- Lift the body off the floor so that the points of contact are the forearms and the balls of the feet (feet flexed)
- Shift slightly so that the upper arms are perpendicular to the floor and elbows under the shoulders
- Brace the core, stabilize the scapulae, lock the knees and tighten the glutes
If you’re training more gymnastics style, you’re going to come into a bit more of a posterior pelvic tilt.
When it comes to plank variations though, there are a few ways to look at it. In the video below I outline different ways to challenge your core based on your goals.
A few things to note from the video:
If you’ve passed all four tests for core stability you can move on. This can be done from an anti-extension perspective (moving into kneeling rollouts, L-sits, hanging knee raises etc). It can also be done by moving forward in ALL core movements (anti-rotation, scapulothoracic, and lumbopelvic) or you can focus just on plank progressions.
Regarding the basics of planking, do not:
- Allow the low back to arch (thus deactivating the muscles you’re trying to work)
- Have your shoulders up by your ears
- Twist and turn through the lumbar spine
- Let your glutes go lax
How To Progress Planks
While there are so many plank variations out there, the list below gives a basic view of how to progress planks.
- Use an elevation (either on the feet or hands)
- Make the surface unstable (stability ball, bosu, rings, trx)
- Add movement (walking planks, rows, and shoulder work while you plank, passing balls etc)
Within those three things come literally hundreds of variations of the plank.
Below are eight of my favorite plank variations with a quick video of what they look like. These plank variations are geared more towards the advanced side of training.
It goes without saying that regardless of which plank variations you chose to try, know that the basic principles must be consistent.
- Elbow plank with leg lifts
- Feet elevation elbow plank
- Swiss ball plank with leg abduction
- Swiss ball elbow plank with feet elevated
- Feet elevated full plank with leg lifts
- Bench elbow plank with feet on a medicine ball
- Kettlebell Plank
- Trx suspended plank
Don’t forget to pin these tips on how to progress planks!
The plank exercise isn’t just about the abs or getting yourself a six-pack. It’s one of the main movements in developing all-around core strength to perform better, feel better and move better.
Moreover, there are always ways to make planking harder (and extreme!) but form comes first. Always. If you find yourself unable to stabilize or the low back caves, you’re probably not quite ready for that variation yet.