What To Do If You're Totally Bored With Planks

Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Ah, the plank. Some version of it is used in virtually every type of fitness program, from CrossFit to calisthenics to yoga to pilates, and for good reason. As a core exercise, it’s hard to beat, because it trains all the muscles — from your shoulders to your glutes — to work together to support your body. It’s good for improving your posture, balance, and overall fitness.

Once you’re able to hold a plank for a full minute while maintaining your form, you might be tempted to go even longer. But don’t. Eventually, some muscles will give out sooner than others, which will lead to imbalances — and likely, undue strain on your neck and shoulders.

What's an even better way to boost the benefits of the plank? Variations. Challenge your whole body by adding movement in your limbs while keeping the core strong. This way, you’ll be training your muscles to work together, which is what they have to do in everyday life. Don’t hold any one version for more than one minute, but feel free to do multiple sets, resting for 30 seconds to a minute between them.

We’ll kick things off with a refresher on your basic plank, but keep clicking for the moves you can (and should) do to challenge yourself.

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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Basic Forearm Plank
You've got to start somewhere, and this is it. Using your forearms provides a solid base of support without undue pressure on your wrists.

How-to: Start on your hands and knees.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Basic Forearm Plank (cont.)
Place your forearms on the floor, elbows right under your shoulders.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Basic Forearm Plank (cont.)
Now, straighten one leg and flex your toes strongly toward your face, placing that foot on the floor like a kickstand. Squeeze your butt as you straighten and kickstand your other leg out to match the first. To maintain your position, squeeze your butt (this will be a theme), while pressing your forearms firmly down — it should feel kind of like you’re trying to force a small chasm on the floor between them — and your shoulder blades apart on your back. Lastly, don’t let your head droop. Hold for no more than one minute. Rest about 30 seconds before doing another, if you’re so inclined.

Before you move on to the variations, you want to have a super-strong plank, which means you can stay here for a full minute.

To work up to that, you can start in the full plank position, and then allow only your knees to drop down, maintaining the glute squeeze and the forearm press, so you’re planking with your torso. Practice holding with one straight leg — really engaging that one leg — on both sides before trying the full version again.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Straight-Arm Plank
Smaller base of support = greater challenge. If this one really bugs your wrist, take breaks; your wrists won’t get stronger if you don’t at least try.

How-to: Start from hands and knees.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Straight-Arm Plank
How-to: Squeeze your glutes and press your palms firmly into the floor. Hold for no more than a minute.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Straight-Arm Plank
How-to: Align your shoulders directly above your wrists. Straighten one leg, lifting your body up, and then straighten the other.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Kneeling Side Plank
Most people find side planks tough because they’re not used to using the muscles along the side of of the body. You might also find that one side is stronger than the other. This is the most simplified version of a side plank, to gauge your baseline.

How-to: Lie on your side, with your elbow underneath your shoulder, and your forearm perpendicular to your torso.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Kneeling Side Plank (cont.)
Bend the bottom leg at the knee, such that the thigh forms a straight line with the torso and the lower leg is behind you. The top leg will be straight, with the arch of the foot resting lightly on the floor.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Kneeling Side Plank (cont.)
Lift your hips up so that you’re balanced on your forearm and knee, squeezing the glutes and pressing down in the arm to lift the hips, without sagging in the upper body. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute; then, switch sides.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Full Side Plank
Not only does this move work the core from both the abs and the glutes, but it challenges your balance, too. To make it a little easier, start with your feet in a staggered stance, with the front foot on top of the bottom, before advancing to the stacked-foot version.

How-to: Start lying on your side, with your elbow directly beneath your shoulder, and your forearm perpendicular to your torso.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Full Side Plank (cont.)
Straighten your legs and place the top foot on the floor just in front of the bottom foot.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Full Side Plank (cont.)
Bend the knees slightly — this will bring your feet a little closer to you — and pop up onto the blades of your feet.

If you notice that your elbow is no longer directly under your shoulder, come down, and bend your knees in a bit more before popping up. Really engage your glutes and obliques (the side-waist muscles) to hold yourself up. Your top arm can be (in order of difficulty): a) along your side, b) with your hand on your hip or c) extended straight up into the air. Once you’ve got your balance, try stacking your feet. Do the same version on both sides.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Plank With Toe Lifts
Once you’ve got a firm basic plank, meaning you can hold it for a minute, it’s time to take it up a notch. While a plank held on one foot is one way to make it harder, adding movement in the form of alternately lifting your toes forces the core to stabilize in a more dynamic way — i.e., how it has to react to movement in day-to-day life.

How-to: Begin in a solid forearm or straight-arm plank. (Don’t forget to squeeze those glutes!)
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Plank With Toe Lifts (cont.)
Carefully lift one foot off the ground, no higher than hip-height, taking care not to allow the torso to shift or the hips to dip. Hold for a second; then, lower that foot and raise the other.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Plank With Toe Lifts (cont.)
Alternate for up to a minute.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Front Plank With Reach
What’s tougher than picking up your feet in a plank? Raising your arms, of course.

How-to: Firm up your forearm plank.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Front Plank With Reach (cont.)
Pick up one arm and fully extend it forward, so your elbow pit is aligned with your ear.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Front Plank With Reach (cont.)
Carefully replace that arm — with your elbow directly under your shoulder — and reach with the other arm. Alternate sides for up to a minute. You will probably need to shift your weight a little to accomplish this, but you want to make sure you’re keeping your shoulders parallel to the floor.

A make-it-(slightly)-easier trick: Space your feet a bit wider than hip-width on the floor. And, yes, keep those glutes engaged the whole time.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Plank with Hand and Foot Reach
...and what’s tougher than picking up your arms in a plank? Raising, alternately, your arms and legs.

How-to: Start in either a forearm or straight-arm plank.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Plank with Hand and Foot Reach (cont.)

How-to:
Simultaneously raise one arm and one leg straight out so they maintain the same plane as your back — all while holding your hips and shoulders level.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Plank with Hand and Foot Reach (cont.)

How-to:
Replace the up limbs to the ground, reset yourself, and raise the opposite sides. Repeat for up to a minute.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Reverse Plank
Turn a plank upside-down and you get the reverse plank, of course. It has the same core-stabilizing benefits but puts a touch more of the onus on your glutes to hold the form.

How-to: Recline on your back with your forearms on the floor and parallel, elbows under shoulders.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Reverse Plank (cont.)

How-to: Dig your heels into the floor, feet flexed, and squeeze your butt to lift your hips up off the floor. Your entire body should form a solid straight line from heels to shoulders. Start with brief holds — 10 seconds — and work your way up to longer ones. Make it harder by coming up to straight arms, though skip this variation if you have shoulder issues.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Side Plank Tick-Tocks

Once you’ve got a really good side plank, let’s add some movement into the mix.

How-to: Pop up into a forearm plank, feet stacked on top of each other.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Side Plank Tick-Tocks (cont.)

How-to:
Level one is to lift and lower the top leg, raising it just a few inches and never so high that it breaks the plane created by the side of the torso. Got that? Take it next-level by moving that top leg in front of the bottom, tapping the toe on the floor, then raising it up and over the bottom leg to tap behind you.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Side Plank Tick-Tocks (cont.)

How-to:
Repeat up to a minute, then rest. Don’t forgot to switch sides.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Side Plank Elbow-to-Knee

This hovering side crunch works both the moving side and the still side for double the benefits.

How-to:
Start in your forearm side plank, placing your free hand behind your head, so your elbow is winging out to the side.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Side Plank Elbow-to-Knee (cont.)

How-to:
Raise your top leg, knee bent, and bring elbow and knee together. Straighten back out and repeat, doing up to a minute’s worth. Then switch sides.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Plank Jacks

Who says planks can’t be aerobic?

How-to: From a forearm plank, jump your toes up and apart, like the legs part of a jumping jack (not to worry — your upper body stays firmly on the ground).
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Plank Jacks (cont.)

How-to:
As soon as your toes land, jump ‘em back together. Repeat for up to a minute, but whatever you do, don’t lose the integrity of your plank.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Thread-the-Needle Side Plank
Your hand is the thread. The space underneath your side makes the needle’s eye. Got it? Eh, read on.

How-to: Get into a forearm side plank. Extend your free arm straight up to the ceiling, then curl forward and thread your hand through the space created by your side waist and the floor — but (important!) do not let your hip drop down or pike up. Return your arm straight up.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Thread-the-Needle Side Plank

How-to: Repeat for up to a minute, then do your other side.
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