Planks are highly effective strength and stability builders. And their popularity is increasing — so much so that plank “challenges” pushing people to hold the core-blasting position for increasing chunks of time have become all the rage. But is holding a 10-minute plank really the best way to progress?
Simply put, no. Knocking out a plank-a-palooza can be ineffective — and potentially dangerous — if you sacrifice quality for time, says exercise physiologist Michele Olson, PhD.
Instead, try one or more of the following progressions three times a week, using the basic plank as your starting position: Lying face-down, lift yourself up on your toes and either your hands or elbows, with a flat lower back, engaged core, and shoulders away from the ears. Your body should form a straight line from head to heels, with shoulders and hips square to the floor, no matter which of the following variations you choose.
Starting on either your elbows or hands, alternate lifting your legs off the floor, straight behind your body. Hold each lift for three seconds, aiming to complete 10 repetitions total.
Starting on your hands, lift one leg and pull your knee toward the same-side elbow. Straighten leg and lower to the floor. Alternate legs for a total of 20 repetitions.
Start on your hands with a sandbag or light dumbbell by your left side. Reach under your body with your right arm and drag the weight to the right side of your body. Alternate for a total of 10 repetitions.
Start on your hands, then lift one arm off the floor without allowing the rest of your body to shift. Widen your feet as needed to increase your base of support. Hold for 10 seconds, then switch sides. Perform three 10-second sets per side.
Starting on your hands, alternate lifting each hand off the floor and tapping your opposite shoulder. Widen your feet as needed to increase your base of support. Alternate hands for a total of 20 repetitions.
Illustrations by Cindy Luu
Perfect Your Plank
Work up to a full plank, on hands or elbows, with these scalable variations.
- Stand about 4 feet away from a wall with feet hip width apart.
- Extend your arms straight in front of your body and tilt toward the wall until your hands are touching it.
- Engage your core and hold your body in a straight line from shoulders to heels. (To increase the difficulty, take a step back from the wall.)
- Begin on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders.
- Keeping your arms straight, inch your knees back away from your hands until there is a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
- Engage your core and balance on your knees and palms.