The excessiveness of my plank-related posts is getting slightly out of hand. But I just love the way you can build up the burn with a series of holds and movements in a plank pose. And core strength is important for good posture, daily movements, other exercise—everything.
I also love the way I’ve seen progress through plank and plank-based exercises. One time in college, I took a group fitness class at the Student Rec Center and we ended with a plank hold contest. My whole body was shaking after 30 seconds and I barely lasted a minute (I don’t know why I remember this so vividly haha). Now, thanks to years of regularly working out (and especially all those megaformer classes), holding a minute-long plank during a class actually feels like a recovery pose to me. What?!
Plank Challenge Workout
This is a workout that can adapt with you as your strength and ability improves. You pick the interval length that’s best for your fitness level and you pick the number of times you repeat the sequence (beginners, just one time through; more advanced, try three sets with a brief rest in between each). Next time you do the workout, challenge yourself to increase your interval length by 5 seconds or add on an extra set.
So to start, pick your interval length: If you’re a beginner, I would suggest 15 seconds. More advanced, try 30+ seconds. You’ll do each move for x seconds, moving right onto the next one at the end without resting or coming out of your plank. There are 8 moves total, so if you pick a 15-second interval, you’ll be in a variation of plank for a total of two minutes.
To give you an idea of what interval length to pick, I can do 45 seconds if I only go through the sequence of exercises once. If I complete 2-3 sets, I’ll do 30-second intervals.
Beginners: I’ve placed an asterisk (*) next to all the moves that can be modified by doing them from your knees. Just make sure that if your knees are down, your butt isn’t sticking up in the air—it’s still a plank! Keep your hips lowered with abs engaged so that your body forms a straight diagonal line from knees to head.
- Forearm Plank* | Most of us are familiar with a plank, so just a couple form queues: think of stacking your joints, elbows directly below shoulders. Pull the lower abdomen in to protect the low back (think of pulling up your jeans’ zipper). Squeeze the quads above the knees—notice how engaging these muscles helps straighten out your body even more.
- Forearm Plank Hops Side to Side | Start in a forearm plank (elbows stacked underneath shoulders, core pulled in tight—don’t let your low back sag or your butt stick up in the air). From here, hop your feet in unison to the right, back to center, to the left, and back to center (that’s one rep). While you hop, try to hold your body in a straight line, not letting your bum pike up into the air.
- Hip Dips* | This is a great one for the obliques. Start in a forearm plank position. From here, dip your left hip down towards the ground, twisting through your waist and rotating onto the outer edge of your left foot. Chest and shoulders stay square, only below the waist rotates. Come back through center and then repeat to the right. I think of it as tracing a smooth arc shape with my hips. Just be careful not to pike the bum into the air as you come up—it comes no higher than where it’d be in a static forearm plank.
- Walking Plank* | You’re essentially just moving from low plank to high plank, up and down. Starting in a forearm plank position, press up into a high plank, one hand at a time. Reverse the movement when you’re in a high plank, lowering onto one forearm at a time. Important form notes:
- Hands under shoulders, not in front. As you do these, think about keeping your shoulders stacked directly over whatever joint is on the floor (wrist in high plank, elbow in forearm plank). As you fatigue, the tendency is to have your hands far in front of your shoulders so that it’s easier to get back down to your forearms—don’t do this!
- Hold your hips level. Instead of shifting your body weight and rocking the hips to the forearm side as you move up and down, stabilize through the core and hold the hips level. To do this, the arms need to work harder, elbows bending deeper (like when you do a push up).
- Alternate your lead hand. Your body will want your dominate side to lead on this (from forearm plank: right hand presses up, left hand comes up, right forearm lowers down, left forearm comes down). Switch it up next time through so that your left side then leads the way.
- Crossbody Mountain Climbers | Start in a plank position with hands stacked under shoulders, abs held in tight (don’t let your low back arch down towards the floor). Pull your right knee across your body towards your left elbow, trying to make physical contact between the two if you can. Step the right foot back into your high plank and then repeat on the other side, left knee to right elbow. I want the pace of these to be controlled: quick, but your focus is on pulling the knee as far forward as possible (try to tap the arm every time) more so than on the speed.
- Rotating Side Planks* | Enjoy these! They’ll give your shoulders/arms some much-needed relief (albeit momentary). From high plank, shift your weight into your right hand and foot, rotating open into a side plank with your left hand reaching up towards the ceiling. Squeeze that right sidebody, keeping your hips lifted. Rotate back down to your high plank and then shift the weight into your left hand and foot, opening up into a side plank facing the other direction. Continue back and forth.Tip: Keep your feet closer together than you would in a normal plank so that you can easily roll from the edge of one foot to the other as you rotate between the side planks.
- Plank Jacks | Start in a plank position with hands aligned underneath shoulders. Jump feet out to the sides (like a horizontal jumping jack) and quickly back together. Try to hold a strong plank alignment with your upper body as you jump the feet out and in—don’t let your butt pike up into the air or hips sag downward.
- Plank* | End just like you started: holding in stillness, this time on your hands (although if your wrists are bothering you, feel free to do a forearm plank instead!). Wrists should be stacked directly under shoulders.
More Planking Fun (…”Fun”):