Have regular planks become too easy for you? Time to change that.
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of planks. I include them in my clients coaching programs all the time.
In addition to helping strengthen the core, they can improve posture and alleviate lower back pain.
Before trying the more challenging variations, make sure your form is spot on with basic planks (most people butcher planks without even realizing it).
If you’re not sure whether your form is 100%, try filming a short video and take a look at what you may be doing wrong.
A few tips:
- Keep a neutral (flat) spine
- Avoid arching the lower back or letting the hips rise
- Don’t excessively round the upper back
- Make sure you aren’t holding your breath
If you find that you’re making some of the mistakes listed above — or if have no idea — check out this video to get a quick recap on how to do a basic plank.
Once you’ve mastered the basic plank above, try introducing some of the more challenging variations below.
1. RKC planks
Instead of holding a regular plank for minutes on end with crappy form try an RKC. If you’re not humbled, then you’re probably not doing them right. When performed correctly, they’re hard to hold for more than 20-30 seconds.
All that extra squeezing (think walnut crackin’ between those cheeks) increases recruitment of the deep abdominal muscles (transverse abdominis) by increasing overall tension and muscle recruitment.
2. Planks with a full exhale on each breath
This is a simple, yet underrated tip that I picked up from Eric Cressey.
Breathing — when done correctly — can greatly improve your planks.
Fully exhaling and emptying the lungs with each breath will help you get more serratus anterior recruitment, better posterior tilting of the pelvis, better anterior core engagement, and relaxation of overused supplemental respiratory muscles. (1)
In other words, you’ll put yourself a better position to engage more of the core.
3. Add extra load via a weight vest, plate, chains, etc.
Again, make sure your planks are rock solid before trying this variation. Ego has no place here, and nobody will think you’re badass if your ass is sagging under loaded planks (your lower back won’t be too happy either).
On the other hand, if you’re a rockstar at planks, load it up baby. Just make sure you can maintain the same position and don’t try holding it too long.
You’re better off maintaining proper form for a shorter period than holding it longer with bad form.
4. Pot Stirs
Use an unstable surface such as a stability ball.
Unstable service = more stability required = more core recruitment.
You can make this even more challenging by adding in a rotational movement of the arms (pot stirs)
Tips for the perfect pot stirs:
- Straight line from head to heel
- No excessive forward head posture
- Don’t arch the lower back. If the hips sag and the lower back starts to arch, you’ll likely feel a pinching sensation in the lower back. You should feel this mostly in the front of your body.
- Don’t round the upper back
5. Use a single-leg stance
Using a single-leg stance will reduce your base of support and add an anti-rotational component.
Make sure the hips point downward throughout the movement. Avoid rotating the hips and keep the back flat.
6. Plank Arm March
Here’s another anti-rotation variation that’s even more challenging than the single-leg planks above.
Make sure to keep a flat back and avoid bobbing side to side. You can make this movement harder by bringing the feet closer together, or easier by widening them.
Want to try these plank variations in your next workout?
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- Cressey, Eric. “Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training: Installment 4.” Eric Cressey. N.p., 1 Aug. 2014. Web. 15 Jan. 2017.