Essential Plank Workout

Shana Verstegen
by Shana Verstegen
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Essential Plank Workout

The plank is the gold standard strength move for the core, and the core is the foundation for all movement, spinal stability and athleticism. With that being said, it’s safe to say planks should be a vital part of your workout routine.

Not sure how to plank correctly? Never done a plank? Want to get better at planks? We’ve got you covered! Read on.

First things first, there are three things to think about while holding a plank:

  1. Proper alignment: As you are in a plank position, take a moment to do some body checks. Are your ears, shoulders, hips and ankles in one straight line? Are you driving your heels backward? Are your eyes staring at the floor slightly ahead of your hands for neutral neck alignment?
  2. Tightly brace your whole body: When in a plank position, think of systemically squeezing all of the muscle groups. Begin with your calves, then quads, hamstrings, glutes, core and finally press your arms into the floor to engage behind your shoulder blades. Throughout your plank exercise, continue to ask yourself, “Am I bracing as hard as I can?”
  3. Perform 10-second holds: To ensure the high level of contraction mentioned above, it is recommended to hold planks for 10-seconds followed by a 2–3 second rest, repeating the cycle until proper form can no longer be maintained. This timing allows for a stronger core contraction, greater strength gains, and a decreased chance of injury (as compared to longer planks).

Essential Plank Workout

Below is a workout that includes several plank variations to target your entire core, plus instructions on proper form for each exercise. This workout evolves from a standard plank on the ground to crawling and walking upright with a stiff and strong core. As you do any of these exercises, come back to your same plank questions: Is my body in straight alignment? Am I actively contracting my muscles as I move in various positions?

THE WORKOUT

PLANK

Plank

The Move: Place your forearms on the ground and position your elbows directly under your shoulders. Brace every muscle in your body and lift into a straight line from the top of your head to your heels. Perform 6 sets of 10-second holds with a 3-second rest between sets.

Modification option: To make this exercise easier, drop your knees to the ground. Ensure your hips stay in line with your shoulders and knees.

SIDE PLANK 

The Move: Place one elbow on the ground directly below your shoulder on the same side, making sure your shoulders are square to the front. Your shoulders should also align with your hips and heels. With a very tight, braced core, push the ground away from you, staying active in the shoulder joint. Your feet can be stacked or the top foot in front of the bottom, with the blades of your feet pressing into the floor. Perform 6 sets of 10-second holds with a 3-second rest between sets. Switch sides, repeat the 6 sets of 10-second holds with a 3-second rest between sets.

Modification option: To make this exercise easier, drop your knees to the ground and perform a side bridge from the knees instead of the feet.


CLICK TO TWEET THIS ARTICLE > Strengthen every part of your core with this step-by-step plank workout. #myfitnesspal #coreworkout 


PLANK WITH REACH

Plank With Reach

The Move: Begin in a hand or forearm plank position, with your body in a tight, straight line and feet about shoulder-width apart. With minimal movement in the rest of your body, extend one arm in line with your shoulder. Hold for a count of two, set it down, and repeat on the other side. Perform 3 sets of 20 reaches.

Modification option: To make this exercise easier, drop your knees to the ground. Ensure your hips stay in line with your shoulders and knees.

SIDE PLANK WITH LEG RAISE

Side Plank Leg Raise

The Move: While holding a side plank, lift your top leg up about 6 inches and slightly back to engage your glutes. Lower your leg to the starting position. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps. Switch sides, and repeat 3 sets of 10 reps.

Modification option: To make this exercise easier, drop your knees to the ground and lift your top knee off your bottom knee.

STIR THE POT

The Move: Place your elbows on a stability ball and find a strong, straight plank position. Ensure your shoulders are directly above your elbows and pulled down away from your ears. While keeping the rest of your body as still and stable as possible, draw a circle with your forearms in a clockwise motion. Stop when you’ve completed one full circle, and then draw a circle in a counterclockwise motion. Perform 3 sets of 10 circles in each direction.

Modification option: To make this exercise easier, drop your knees to the ground. Ensure your hips stay in line with your shoulders and knees.

SINGLE-ARM FARMER CARRY

The Move: Hold a heavy dumbbell (or any weighted object) in one hand. While bracing your core and resisting movement forward or to the side, walk slowly and controlled during the entire set. Walk for 50 steps, switch hands and walk for 50 more steps. Perform 3 sets of 50 steps with each hand.

Modification option: If forearm strength is an issue, a weightlifting strap can be used on the working side. 

LATERAL CRAWL

The Move: Begin on your hands and knees with your core tightly braced. Elevate your knees about 2 inches off the ground. Move your right hand and right foot to the right in a crawling motion, keeping your hips lower than your shoulders. Then, move your left hand and left foot to the right to reset before the next rep. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps in each direction.

Modification option: To make this exercise easier, elevate your hips slightly

For more fitness inspiration, check out “Workout Routines” in the app to discover and log a wide variety of routines by performance specialists. Or build your own routine with exercises that fit your goals.

About the Author

Shana Verstegen
Shana Verstegen

Shana is a TRX and American Council on exercise master instructor and a six-time world champion lumberjack athlete. She holds a degree in Kinesiology
- Exercise Science from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and is a certified personal trainer through ACE, NASM and NFPT. An energetic and personable speaker, she is also the National spokesperson for the Huntington’s Disease Society of America.

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