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8 Plank Variations to Challenge Your Core

Karla Tafra / LifeSavvy

Planks are one of the most effective exercises to strengthen and tone your core muscles. They require a good, solid foundation, balance, and patience as seeing progress might take some time.

Planks are challenging, but no workout program is complete without them. If you’re new to exercising or building your workout regimen, there are plenty of modifications you can start with and prevent any potential injuries or strains.

Basic Plank

The basic, foundational plank is where everything starts. It’s the one you have to solidify before attempting any of the variations. 

Start in an all-fours position, hands right under your shoulders and knees right under your hips. Tuck your toes, engage your core, and extend your legs. Activate your quadriceps and feel your kneecaps lift. Inhale and push the ground away from you, feeling a slight curve in your upper spine, creating space in between your shoulder blades.

Keep your hips squared and in a neutral position, preventing them from dropping down or lifting above your plank line. Hold the position and breathe. Shaking and trembling are totally normal in this position, so you can always modify it by dropping down on your elbows or bringing your knees to the floor as well.  The longer your hold, the more effective the exercise. But, don’t compromise your form! And remember, building plank strength takes time.

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Side Plank

Another foundational plank pose, this time for your side core muscles or obliques, side plank adds an element of balance to the picture. Come into a basic plank and place your left hand in center, right under your face. Turn your entire body to the right side, opening your right arm and lifting it up to the sky. 

Place your right leg on top of your left and squeeze your thighs together. Activate your core and push the ground away from you through your left hand, feeling like you’re lifting higher with each inhale. If this feels too challenging, you can always bring your upper foot forward and place it on the front in front of your left, or bring your elbow and knees down to the floor. Stay for as long as you can hold the position without compromising your form and then repeat it all on the other side.

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One-Legged Plank

Come to a basic plank, whether on your forearms or with arms extended. Set up a good foundation and feel your palms firmly pressed into the floor. Inhale and lift your left leg up. Keep the leg straight and active, pointing through your foot like you’re trying to touch the wall behind you. 

Activate your core muscles even more to maintain your position and find a focus point to look at in front of you. Keep breathing and try to relax your neck and shoulders, keeping them away from your ears. When you feel like you can’t hold any longer, bring your foot down and repeat everything on the other side.

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One-Leg, One-Arm Plank

A more challenging version of the one-legged plank adds another element to the exercise: lifting your opposite arm. Come to a basic plank hold and on your inhale, lift your left leg. Breathe and keep everything strong and active. When you’ve solidified your one-legged plank, take an inhale and lift your right arm, stretching it straight in front of you. 

Keep breathing and stretching through your leg and through your arm, supporting your balance and feeling your core muscles start to burn. Hold for as long as you can without your hips dropping or your posture impaired and repeat everything on the other side.

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Knee-to-Nose Plank

Come into a basic plank and set up a good foundation. Hands right under shoulders, legs active and high on the balls on the feet, hips in a neutral position. Engage your abs and push the floor away from you. On your inhale, lift your left leg up and bend your knee, bringing it toward your nose with your exhale, creating a C shape with your spine. 

Hold it here for as long as you possibly can or bring the knee down one inch off the floor and pick it back up. Inhale bring it down and exhale lift it up. This addition is extremely challenging so don’t go for it unless you feel like holding the knee-to-nose pose is too easy. Hold for as long as you can and then repeat with your right leg.

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Side Plank Star

Side planks are challenging as it is, but adding a lifted leg brings it to a whole new level, especially in terms of balance. Come to a side plank and make sure your form is properly set up, your core engaged, legs together, and hips in a neutral position. Inhale and lift your upper leg straight up, like you’re trying to create a star shape with your body. 

Stay here for as long as you can, constantly engaging and squeezing your muscles to stay in balance. Once you come out of the pose, repeat everything on the other side, starting with a good and solid side plank.

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Upward Plank

Your core muscles include your lower back as well and not just your abs and obliques. Come to a seated position with your legs straight and extended on the floor in front of you. Place your palms behind your sitting bones, fingers facing forward. Inhale and lift your hips and upper body, keeping your legs straight and digging your heels into the floor. 

You can drop your head down and relax your neck or keep it straight and look up. The latter is a bit harder to hold but it prevents you from pinching any nerves in your neck as you stretch it out by relaxing your head. Stay for as long as you can before your hips start sinking back to the floor.

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Hip Dips

Come to a basic plank position and drop to your forearms. Dig your elbows into the floor and straighten your legs fully, feeling your kneecaps lift. Take an inhale and on your exhale drop your hips to the side without moving your arms or your feet. On your next inhale lift your hips and drop them to the other side. 

Keep alternating sides for at least 20 repetitions, but keep going if you feel like your core can take it. Every time you come back to the center, make sure your hips are still in a neutral position and they haven’t lifted.

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Add these plank variations to your next workout and feel your core getting stronger with each added 15 seconds. And if you want to really challenge your abs, complete a circuit of these pilates-influenced exercises!

Karla Tafra Karla Tafra
Karla is a certified yoga teacher, nutritionist, content creator and an overall wellness coach with over 10 years of international experience in teaching, writing, coaching, and helping others transform their lives. From Croatia to Spain and now, the US, she calls Seattle her new home where she lives and works with her husband. Read Full Bio »
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