Planking in strange places might have been a social media fad of the mid 2000s, but doing plank exercises for abs as a means of strengthening your core? That’s here to stay. The trend did have one thing right — in order to perfect the plank, you need full-body engagement to create stiff-as-a-board stability. But to really work your entire body (no, it’s not just an ab exercise!) and blast more calories, you need to add a little movement to your planks. Goodbye plateau; hello all-over strength!
Before you take on new variations, make sure you can master holding a straight line from the crown of your head to your heels, with shoulders over elbows (or wrists if you’re in a high plank), says Prince Brathwaite, a Daily Burn 365 trainer and founder of Trooper Fitness. “If you’re unable to keep your hips in line with your head and feet, then you should regress,” he says. Placing your knees on the ground is a good place to start. And if you can stop that straight line from breaking for one full minute, it’s time to switch it up.
Here, Brathwaite offers five ways to progress your plank exercises so you keep challenging your core — without results fading as quick as a fad.
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Plank Exercises That Go Beyond the Basic
When holding a solid straight-body plank for 60 seconds feels as easy as lying on the couch, it’s time put your body to the movement test. Follow this line-up of five plank exercises from Brathwaite to keep it progressing — meaning your muscles will trample plateaus. As soon as one exercise feels easy, work on mastering the next.
1. Step Out Plank
Step one: Add some movement to that isometric hold. By lifting a leg, you’re forced to work harder to keep your trunk and hips steady, counteracting the movement in your lower half.
How to: Start in a forearm plank position (a). Tap your right foot out to the side, a little wider than hip-width, then step it right back (b). Tap your left foot out to the side, a little wider than hip-width, then step it back (c). Continue alternating.
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2. Arm Raise Plank
Time to balance on three limps. Once again, your core has to fire to keep your body still as you pick up one arm, then the other.
How to: Start in a forearm plank position (a). Keeping your hips squared to the ground and lower half stable, lift your right arm straight up to shoulder height. Then lower it back down (b). Lift your left arm straight up to shoulder height, then place it back down (c). Continue switching arms.
3. Arm and Leg Raise Plank
The anti-rotation test just took an even more difficult turn. “Naturally, your hips will want to twist to find the path of least resistance,” says Brathwaite. “Your job: Maintain parallel hips and minimal movement in your midsection.” Challenge, accepted.
How to: Start in a forearm plank position (a). Lift your left arm and right leg straight up to shoulder and hip height. Pause for a second, then lower them back to the starting position (b). Next, lift your right arm and left leg straight up to shoulder and hip height, pause, then place them back down (c). Continue alternating.
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4. Star Plank
As they say, one simple change can lead to big benefits — and a serious burn. Just by stepping your hands out an inch or two in front of your shoulders, you’ll really torch your core as you fight to stay stable.
How to: Start in a high push-up plank position (a). Step one hand a few inches in front of your shoulder, then the other hand — and hold it there. Your body should remain in one straight line, with full-body muscle engagement (b). Work on holding this position for 60 seconds without breaking form.
5. High Low Star Plank
Meet the star plank, but with extra star (err, sweat) power. Walking your hands forward and backward means even more muscles work (hello, shoulders and back) and you slash more calories.
How to: Start in a forearm plank position (a). Press up onto one hand as you step it out a few inches in front of your shoulder, then do the same on the other (b). Next, step one hand back and go back down onto your forearm, so your elbow is under your shoulder. Then repeat with the other arm (c). Continue stepping your hands forward and backward, going from forearm plank to star plank, and keeping your body in one straight line.
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