Two women doing a plank exercise outside in shorts.

Strength training: 5 plank variations to strengthen your entire core

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Bored of planking? Mix up your core workouts with these variations – and reap the benefits in your strength training

What is your go-to exercise when it comes to working your core? For so many of you, the answer will be a plank. It’s a great answer: the plank is a compound exercise that target all of the muscles in the abdomen as well as the chest, shoulders and even the glutes. The plank strengthens your spine, too, so as your back msucles grow in strength, it will naturally result in stronger posture (which we all desperately need after working from home). 

However, if your goal is to strengthen the entirety of your core and work the smaller muscles to support you in big lifts, you might want to consider other variations of a plank. 

Plank variations are a great way to challenge your body in different ways,” says Aimee Long, personal trainer and pilates teacher. “As our body is always adapting, we need to slightly change moves through regressions and progressions to constantly progress. Variations also add further challenges as they shift the emphasis onto other muscles in and outside the core.” 

So, if you’ve been on your planking journey for some time and feel pretty comfortable with holding the original isometric move (we salute you) then switching it up with these moves could do you the world of good. Here are some variations we recommend…

Side plank

Turning on your side will give a lot of attention to the obliques. That’s important if you’re wanting to nail moves like pull-ups, where the oblique muscles support your lats to get you over the bar. But strong obliques also crucially support our lower backs. “Side planks also help improve shoulder stability and are seen as a great plank progression,” says Aimee. 

  1. Lie on your right side with your right forearm flat on the floor, elbow under your shoulder and legs extended in a straight line. 
  2. You can either have your left foot on the floor behind your right, or have it balancing on top – it depends on how good your balance is.
  3. Lift your hips off the floor and hold in that position.
Woman peforming a side plank
Core workouts: side plank variations can work your obliques.

Hip dips

As you become stronger in the side plank, you can add hip dips to make the move dynamic and work on stabilisation and power

  1. Come into a steady high plank position. 
  2. Slowly lower your bottom hip down to the floor while keeping your chest open and hips aligned. 
  3. Push through your core to come back up to the starting position. 

Leg raises

Work on your hip stability and balance by adding a left lift into your plank. This isn’t about smashing out as many reps as possible but performing smooth, controlled movements.

  1. Come into a low plank position with both forearms on the floor, your shoulders rolled back and your glutes engaged.
  2. Slowly lift one leg a few inches off the ground. 
  3. Be sure to keep your core engaged so that your hips don’t move from side to side – the only thing moving should be your leg.  Keep your feet flexed throughout the movement to utilise your glutes as you lift. 
  4. Slowly lower and repeat on the other side. 

Shoulder taps

Again, this is all about stability, making sure not to move through the upper body or collapse through the hips as you take one hand off the floor. “This is more tasking on the shoulders and wrists and can also be used to elevate the heart rate,” says Aimee. “Again, the key here is to stop the hips from rotating so you’ll need to lock those core muscles, tighten your glutes and switch on the hamstrings.”

  1. Come into a high plank position with your wrists stacked under your shoulders.
  2. Slowly lift one hand, ensuring your hips don’t move to the side by bracing your abdominalds, and tap the opposite shoulders. 
  3. Lower your hand back to the ground and repeat on the opposite side. 

Corkscrew plank

Corkscrew plank also works your obliques by rotating through the trunk.

  1. Start in forearm plank with everything brace. 
  2. Slowly twist your hips to one side so one of your hips makes its way towards the ground – don’t worry about depth but make the move effective by controlling the movement.
  3. Squeeze through your obliques to return your hips back to centre and repeat on the other side. 

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Images: Getty

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).

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