The plank may be the ultimate core-building exercise, but here’s how you can make it so much more than that
The plank can strengthen your core, fix poor posture, and reduce lower-back pain. But as you’re hovering there, why not make the move do double duty? These five awesome plank variations provide all the benefits of the classic core-sculpting move, while also chiseling bigger arms, building a broader back, skyrocketing your heart rate, or increasing your flexibility.
The uneven plank is just as much of a core builder as it is a triceps builder. “Unlike the standard plank, you’ll lift one forearm off the floor,” says BJ Gaddour, C.S.C.S., creator of Men’s Health StreamFit. “Now your arm is holding the bottom position of a pushup, which instantly activates your triceps.” The longer you hold the exercise, the longer your triceps will be under tension. And since you only have one forearm on the floor instead of two, your core has to work overtime to stabilize.
SIDE PLANK WITH QUAD STRETCH
This two-in-one move hits your obliques and improves your flexibility. “You’ll not only work the muscles on the side of your torso, but you’ll loosen your hip flexors, a group of muscles on the front of your hips that allow you to bring your legs toward your chest,” says Gaddour. Prolonged sitting can make these muscles tight, resulting in injuries like hamstring strains and back pain. Keeping them loose is key to increasing your gains.
Performing a quad stretch in a side plank is more effective than doing the stretch standing, too. The reason: When upright, it’s difficult to fully activate your hip flexors since your lower back can hyperextend, he says. But when you’re in a side plank, your entire core is stabilized so your back can’t easily move.
PLANK SINGLE-ARM ROW
If you want to hit your back while you’re holding a plank, try this move. The single-arm row works your upper-back muscles including your lats, traps, rear deltoids, and rhomboids. And since you do all of your rows with one arm, before switching to the other, you’ll keep tension on your working muscles longer—which can lead to better muscle gains for your back, says David Jack, owner of Activ8 in Phoenix, Arizona.
The move hammers your core, too. Because you elevate your body with your hands on a bench, you’ll likely be able to hold the plank position better (and longer) while performing the single-arm row, says Jack.
Break a sweat and increase your heartrate by turning your plank into a dance move. When you perform the breakdancer, you’ll quickly move your feet from side to side and across your body. However, you must maintain the same rigid, straight torso that you would when performing a plank. ”It adds a whole new level of difficulty because your core has to fight to stay stable against the motion of your legs,” says Gaddour. And when you go fast and mix up the moves, it doubles as a great metabolism-revving cardio exercise, too. You’ll not only have a chiseled torso, but you’ll also have an impressive move to show off on the dance floor this weekend.
PLANK WALKUP TO PUSHUP
You’ll hammer your biceps, triceps, shoulders, and chest with this dynamic version of the move. It requires you to keep a straight line from your head to your ankles, while going from a plank to a pushup position over and over again. The faster you go, the harder it is to maintain a perfectly stable plank—and the harder your upper body has to work, says Jack. Just 30 to 60 seconds will leave your arms shaking and your core burning.