Too many people go about core strength the wrong way. They sit at a computer all day, hunched over in flexion, then head to the gym to put themselves in more flexion through countless sit-ups and crunches.
For folks lifting barbells off the ground and over their heads, good hip and core stability is more important than core flexion.
That’s why planks are never going out of style. When done right, they don’t just improve midline stability, they strengthen the glutes and quads, target the rectus abdominus (which can improve jumping power), improve posture, reduce back pain, and increase balance.
These aren’t the only core exercises you should have in your rotation, but for their sheer versatility and do-anywhere-ness, it’s worth fitting a solid plank sesh into your rest days. (And if you’ve already mastered them, send this to your more unstable friends.)
1) The Incline Plank
The incline plank, like an incline push-up, is an easier version of the standard kind. It requires a little less stability and puts more emphasis on the middle muscles of the abs.
2) The Decline Plank
This version places a little more stress on the lower abs than the rest of the six-pack. Since these muscles are often neglected, and since the decline puts more stress on the shoulders, this “beginner” exercise can wind up surprisingly hard to maintain. Swap the bench for an exercise ball to step things up a notch.
3) The RKC Plank
The RKC plank looks like your regular plank, but the trick is to push the forearms hard into the ground, squeeze the glutes hard, and create tension throughout the entire body. It cranks the humble plank up to eleven.
4) The Side Plank
The go-to bodyweight move for your obliques, the side plank helps to improve lateral stability and gives some fullness to the outer ridges of your six-pack. Stack the legs on top of each other and make things more difficult by lifting your top leg or holding a weight.
5) The Weighted Plank
We call this the plank plus. For the sake of safety and to target the most desirable muscles, try to put the weight directly over your core.
6) The Bird Dog
Simply lifting two limbs off the ground is a terrific way to amp up your plank. It’s much better at challenging your balance, kinesthic awareness, coordination, and low back. For extra difficulty, try bringing your knee and elbow together or performing the exercise with straight arms.
7) The Extended Plank
Start the plank on your hands and slowly walk them out in front of you as you get closer and closer to the floor. Make absolutely sure your back stays straight and your hips don’t sag.
8) The X Plank
Moving your base away from your core forces your muscles to work harder to stabilize the body. If you’re daring, you can combine this with the extended plank, moving back and forth between the positions.
9) The Fingertip Plank
Hand strength is arguably the most important kind of functional strength. It can result in everything from easier deadlifts to finally opening that damn pickle jar. The fingertip plank will help you in this goal, just remember that you don’t really want to be all the way on the tips of your fingers, but rather on the pads of your fingers with the tips slightly bent back.
10) The Suspension Trainer/Ring Plank
Our pick for the most difficult on this list: Loop your hands inside the handles of a suspension trainer (or a couple of rings, as shown above) and feel the burn. This variation instantly throws the body into a wildly unstable position and ratchets up the difficulty of the movement. For an easier version, loop the feet inside the handles instead. For even more instability, try a side plank with one hand balancing in the handle.