OK, we get it: Planks are boring. Staring at the floor with the sweat dripping down your nose waiting for your timer to run down is almost as exciting as visiting the in-laws.
Just in case you’ve been living under a rock as of late, planks are isometric exercises used to strengthen and build endurance in the abdominals. They are typically performed either on your elbows and toes, on your side, or even face up. They are normally held for time (30 to 60 seconds) or performed in shorter timed intervals with only a few seconds’ break (say, 10-second holds with two-second rest periods).
Planks are the new situps for modern-day core training. People like numbers, so instead of doing 300-500 situps every night, they’ll form a statue-like creature on the floor next to their bed and be motionless for as long as possible. But, as with anything, we must apply the Principle of Progressive Overload to ensure continued progress. No one in their right mind wants to hold their planks longer and longer—thankfully, progressive overload can be applied by other means.
If you can nail a basic front plank, remove the boredom with these variations. Not only are they challenging, but they will also add some spice to your ab routines.
Chose a few of each variation below and add 3-5 sets to your workouts. Perform each set for 60 seconds
1. Reduce stability
Minimizing your base of support will increase the difficulty and challenge your ability to maintain your neutral position.
Try the Front plank with alternate arm and leg lift.
Go into a traditional front plank on your elbows and toes. Stay long and tight, and squeeze your glutes. Lift one arm and the opposite leg without compensating your flat back position. Hold for five seconds and alternate sides.
2. Add a compound movement
Adding a compound movement to an isometric plank not only makes the plank more difficult, you also get to develop other muscles at the same time.
Try the pushup plank with row.
Go into a pushup plank with your hands on two dumbbells. Brace your abs and form a straight line from your head to your heels. Row one dumbbell while keeping a flat back. The hips like to rise, so drive your hips down by squeezing your glutes.
3. Take your plank elsewhere
One of our favorite plank variations involves crawling. Traversing in a plank will blast your abs and your lungs.
Try the flat back bear crawl.
Go into a pushup plank. Bring one arm and the opposite leg forward to start crawling. Keep your back flat and your knees low—do not bring them higher than your hips, otherwise you’ll push your hips upward and lose the “plank” effect. Lateral bear crawls are also awesome—in this variation, keep your knees straight and abduct your hips. See how far you can go in a minute.
4. Add a ball
A ball can allow for different variations that would not otherwise be possible.
Try the exercise ball pike.
Go into a pushup plank with your lower shins on a ball. Brace your core and stay flat. Pull your hips upward while the ball rolls toward your stomach. Keep your legs straight. More weight will transfer toward your hands as your torso moves toward the vertical. Once your hips are above your shoulders, return to the starting position.
5. Make it eccentric
An eccentric component takes your isometric plank to the next level. Eccentric training can add new challenges and new levels of strength.
Try the ab wheel roll out.
Stand near a wall, a distance just larger than your height. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold an ab wheel just in front of your feet. Slowly transfer weight to your hands as you roll forward toward the wall. Brace your abs to keep a neutral spine. Let the wheel hit the wall. Hold this position for a few seconds. Roll the wheel back and repeat.
6. Add a force vector
Adding a force vector will challenge your muscles to not only hold position, but to resist movement in another direction.
Try the standing anti-rotation plank.
This is basically a plank performed in the standing position. Stand perpendicular to a cable stack or resistance band. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and the handle/band held against your stomach. Stand tall and brace your abs. Press the handle/band straight in front of you. Resist the torque created by the cable/band. Hold the pressed position for five seconds. Return the handle/band back to your stomach and repeat.
7. Add a dynamic surface
Suspension training systems are awesome for increasing the challenge and providing variety to your core training. Dynamic stability training with suspension systems can provide joint stabilizers with a tremendous challenge, normally absent when training on a stable surface.
Try the suspension system mountain climber.
Insert your feet into a suspension system such as a TRX or Jungle Gym roughly 8” from the ground. Go into a pushup plank and pull your toes up toward your hips. Bring one knee toward your stomach. Simultaneously alternate bringing your legs forward and away from your stomach. Keep a flat back during the exercise as it’s common to flex the spine and round the back as the knee drives toward the stomach.
8. Add some weight
Just as you would progress a bench press by adding weight to the bar, try progressing your plank by adding weight to your torso.
Try the weighted front plank.
Go into a basic front plank on your elbows and toes. Brace your abs and squeeze your glutes. Have a partner place a weight plate on your back/hips. Maintain your neutral position and resist the urge to sag. Maintain for the allotted time.