Power Planks; Variations on a Core Theme

Photo Credit: Nicolas Smith
In recent years, exercises initiated in the plank position have become hugely popular with personal trainers. And with good reason. The plank (aka the starting position for a push-up) isn't just a total body workout—it also serves as a great base position for an endless array of body-strengthening exercises. You can work almost any muscle group in a plank, even as the plank itself helps you build core strength.

To help mix up your routine with a new array of core-popping plank-based exercises, we consulted Ami Student, an ACSM- and NASM-certified personal trainer with the award-winning Diakadi Body personal training gym in San Francisco. First, Student gave us three great reasons to pursue the plank:
  1. Build your core: “When you’re in a plank, you have to engage your entire core system as one, just to resist gravity,” says Student. The plank forces the front and back muscles of your trunk to work in tandem, helping you build a strong and balanced core.
  2. Stand straighter: “The straight alignment you develop in the plank is in large part a kind of self-awareness, and you can use it to develop the same awareness when you’re vertical," says Student. "You’ll literally stand up straighter, which looks better, and is better for you.”
  3. Shrink your waist: The plank position burns calories faster than you can say, 'I can button my jeans!' “Your body works harder when your core is engaged," says Student."It’s great for people trying to lose weight.”
Get Started with the Basic Plank
A plank can be the base for working almost any body part, but you can’t base an entire workout on it. The standard plank position can be hard on your wrists, and it’s a lot of work for your core. To get the most benefits out of the plank, start replacing one or two of your usual exercises for a major muscle group with a plank-based exercise.

To get started, first make sure you know the proper way to do a plank. In a traditional basic plank position, you will have your arms extended straight down from the shoulders; hands flat on the floor; finger tips pointing forward; shoulders, back and hips flat; and a straight alignment from your head to your feet. You should be able to feel your transverse abdominal muscle, which runs across your stomach below your belly button, as it holds you flat. Think it's easy? It's not. Try holding the basic plank for a minute and you'll definitely feel the burn.

Variations on the Basic Plank
People who have very tight hip flexors may find it a strain to hold themselves flat. If your hip flexors are too tight for a standard plank, you can slightly lift your hips toward the ceiling—keeping it as your goal to build flexibility and get to a straight alignment eventually. If the plank is too much work for your core or arms, you can try putting your knees on the floor and lifting your feet behind you. Or try putting a Smith machine bar at a middle setting, and, standing with your feet set back from the bar, do an elevated plank. In general, Student says, “you can increase the angle at which you hold a plank and ease into it. It’s just really important to be careful about levels of difficulty—because you must protect your back and center against gravity. If you feel strain in your back, it means that either your alignment is off or you’re exhausted, and you need to back up a level, or stop.”

From this basic position, you can start building and incorporate the plank into your strength-training regimen. On the following pages you'll find some plank classics provided by Student that are designed to build core and leg strength at the same time, as well as examples of multistage plan workouts to give you a sense of how you can continue to build on the basic architecture of the position and get the workout of a lifetime. Ready to work? Then plank on!

Plank Exercise Quick Links
Knee Drops
Mountain Climbers
Side Traveling Planks
Dumbbell Planks
Side Planks
Back to Intro and Basic Plank Overview