Plank Variations- How To Progress Planks
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!
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 a 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 The Plank Exercise
- 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’s 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 lumbo-pelvic) or you can focus just on plank progressions.
Taking your plank to the next level can involve any of the following:
- Using an elevation (either on the feet or hands)
- Making the surface unstable (stability ball, bosu, rings, trx)
- Adding movement (walking planks, rows and shoulder work while you plank, passing balls etc)
Within those three things come literally hundreds of variations of plank.
Below are eight of my favorite plank variations with a quick video of what they look like.
Regardless of which plank variations you chose to try, know that the basic principals must be consistent.
- 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
- 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 medicine ball
- Kettlebell plank
- Trx suspended plank
Don’t forget to pin these fun, challenging plank variations!
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. 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.
So, what’s your favorite variations of plank? Personally, I love suspended one ?