5 Core-Strengthening Plank Exercises

Up the ante of your normal plank by trying these tough variations.

We’ve brought you workouts to improve your pushup abilities and get toned arms and legs, and today we’re tackling abs. What better way to target the core than with that reliable standby, planks? 

Mike Hamberger, the brains behind DC Running Coach, created a customized workout with five twists on the standard plank. “Performing variations of the traditional plank exercise engages your core muscles and strengthens the stability of your trunk,” he says. “[This] will benefit your performance in other activities, not to mention help tone your midsection.” 

How to Perform the Workout

Perform each exercise for one minute. Rest for 10 to 20 seconds between each set.

1) Five- to ten-minute light cardio warmup.

2) Standard plank position: Starting face down, keep your weight on your forearms and the toes of your feet, with eyes on the floor. Don’t let your knees or hips sag or arch your lower back. Make sure your feet are together and forearms are parallel to each other.

3) Planks with a vertical toe tap: “Raise and lower one leg at a time, keeping leg straight. Engage your glutes to help keep the leg straight as your leg 6 to 30 inches, depending on your height. Complete the repetitions in a slow and controlled speed.”

4) Planks with a lateral toe tap: “Do the leg lifts in an ‘up, out, in, down’ fashion, swinging your leg laterally to the outside. Only lift the toes high enough so that they are just above your opposite heel. Tap down to the ground at a controlled speed.”

5) Planks with a reach: “While in the standard plank position, plant your feet slightly more than than shoulder-width apart. Reach your right arm out in front of you, keeping your hand in line with your shoulder. Return to starting position and alternate arms with each rep. Your entire body should remain motionless except the arm that is reaching forward. Flex the muscles on the same side of the body as the arm that is remaining on the ground to keep your hips neutral.”

6) Side planks: “From the standard plank position, roll to one side so that you’re braced on one arm and your feet are stacked on top of each other. The top arm can either be placed on your top hip or straightened toward the ceiling, and your chest should be facing the wall directly in front of you.” 

7) Planks with a knee drive: “Get in a standard pushup position with your hands directly under your shoulders. Alternate bringing one knee toward the midline of your body and then back to the starting position. Your back may round slightly as you do this. Use the muscles in your lower abs to bring the knee farther under your chest.” 

How to Cater the Workout to You

“The techniques and movements in this workout are purposeful, and they shouldn’t be altered. If you want more or less of a challenge, change the number of reps you do of each set, but don’t cut corners with the technique,” says Hamberger. 

The Verdict

The core muscles targeted in this workout include the rectus abdominus, the transverse abdominus, and the obliques. Hamberger says the gluteus medius is also worked during the single-leg plank position, which is of great benefit to endurance runners since it works the same muscles used late in a race. 

Although this workout took us back to our days of endless planks during lacrosse practice, we were pleased with the burn we felt in our core the next day.

For more Well+Being workouts, visit our Fit Check page.