We all know the plank — the King of Core Stability. It’s a move you can stop, drop and do pretty much anywhere.
For good reason, the plank continues to steadily replace the situp or crunch as the test of core strength in the health and fitness world. And why wouldn’t it? The plank is super effective for training so many of the key muscles in the core all at the same time without placing so much pressure on the spine and hips. The 2-minute plank is rapidly becoming the target benchmark used by many trainers when measuring their clients’ fitness.
When done with proper form, planking is also fabulous for improving posture. As the front of your body works to keep you from crashing onto the floor, the muscles that support your spine are also working to stay aligned with your neck, shoulders and upper back. For this reason, planks are awesome for helping you reduce that 2 o’clock slump (uh huh, you know exactly what I mean).
But what happens once you’ve reached the 2-minute plank? Where do you go from there? You take it up a notch! Start challenging your core in new ways — there’s always room to grow.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to up the ante when it comes to the plank — all you need is solid plank form, a stability ball and a willingness to work.
4 Variations to Take Your Plank to the Next Level
1. Legs-Elevated Plank. You’ve got a couple of options about how to place your feet on the ball: tops of the feet flat on the ball or toes tucked under like I’m doing in the demo picture. The tops of the feet is easier than toes tucked under but it’s a huge stretch on the front of the ankles (which may or may not be tolerable for you). Keep the front and back of your neck long and look slightly ahead of you on the floor. Don’t tuck your chin into your chest and don’t look too far in front of you. Wanna take this up a notch? Try lifting one leg at a time … yikes!
2. Jackknife. Start in a plank with the tops of your feet flat on the stability ball. Keeping your shoulders and wrists stacked, pull from your core and press your hips high up into the air (aiming to get your hips right over your shoulders). Work to keep your legs straight but don’t lock your knees. Balance the weight evenly over the palms of your hands. Then, slowly lower your hips down and come back into a legs-elevated plank — but don’t let your hips sag — before rolling back up again. This is also fabulous prep for working into a handstand.
3. Stir the Pot. Of course you could just do a forearm plank on the stability ball but why not make it a little more interesting and really challenge your core? Separate your feet about hip-width (or even shoulder-width) distance in your plank with your forearms on the ball. Imagine that you have a big mixing spoon between your clasped hands and create a circular motion with your forearms similar to stirring a big pot. Keep the movement in your upper body only, using your core to stabilize you. Be sure to stir the pot in both directions. Whew! This is a toughie for sure.
4. Spiderman Plank. A great way to hit your core from every angle. It’s a forearm plank on the ball where you slowly alternate bringing a knee in toward your elbow, while keeping your hips level and in line with your head and shoulders. Now your upper back, shoulders and upper abs are stabilizing you while your lower abs and obliques are working. Multitasking at its finest!
What’s your favorite way to rock the plank? —Alison