The Plank, Explained in Detail + 6 Variations To Try

A basic plank is an isometric, total-body exercise that works almost all of the muscles in your body simultaneously, including your rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis in the core, the pecs, biceps, triceps, deltoids, serratus anterior, rhomboids, trapezius, and the latissimus dorsi in the upper body, and the quads, glutes, and hamstring in the legs.

In this guide, we will look at the basics of the plank, how to perform it correctly, its benefits, and six different variations you can add to your next strength training sessions.

How To Do A Basic Plank

There are really three basic positions that most of the plank variations are built from, the full plank, the elbow plank, and the side plank. 

Let’s take a look at how to do each one correctly.

Full Plank

A person doing a full plank.
  1. Lie face down on the floor, hands on either side next to your chest, elbows back, and palms facing down as if you were going to do a push-up.
  2. Engaging your core, push yourself into the full plank position, body in a straight line from head to toe.
  3. Your hands, wrists, elbows, and shoulders should be in a straight line, shoulder-width apart, and your weight distributed between your arms and toes.
  4. The closer together your feet are, the more difficult the plank becomes. If you need more stability, separate your feet, so they are further apart. 
  5. Hold this position for the desired amount of time.

Note: If you are new to planks, you can begin with just trying to hold the position for 15-20 seconds, depending on your fitness level, and gradually increase the time until you are holding the position for 60 seconds or longer, for 3 reps. 

Now, our next basic version is a step up in difficulty from the full plank. The elbow plank. 

Elbow Plank 

A person doing an elbow plank.
  1. Lie face down on the floor, elbows on either side of you next to your chest, and your hands in fists.
  2. Engaging your core, push yourself into an elbow plank position by propping yourself up on your forearms, elbows bent at 90 degrees, and your body straight from head to toe.
  3. Your elbows and shoulders should be in a straight line, shoulder-width apart, and your weight distributed between your arms and toes.
  4. As with any plank, the closer together your feet are, the more difficult the plank becomes. If you need more stability, separate your feet, so they are further apart. 
  5. Hold this position for the desired amount of time.

Note: With any plank, keep your hips from sagging too low or rising up too high, creating a peak or V shape. Your body should always be in a straight line from your head to your toes. 

The last of our basic positions is the side plank.

The placement of your feet in a side plank will vary depending on your current strength and fitness levels. We will show you a side plank by placing both feet on the ground (more basic, allowing for more stability) and a side plank with one foot stacked on top of another (more challenging, forcing you to stabilize your body even more). 

Side Plank 

A person doing a full plank.
  1. Lie on your right side with either both feet on the ground, one slightly in front of the other, or your legs stacked one on top of another.
  2. Engage your core, and push yourself off the ground with your right arm and the side of your feet or right foot. Lift your hips off the ground aligning your body.
  3. Hold this position for the desired amount of time.
  4. Repeat on the other side.

Note: This plank can be done as a full plank by supporting your weight with your hand or an elbow plank by supporting yourself on your elbow instead of your hand.

A person doing a side plank.

Benefits of Planks

Planks have loads of benefits, from helping you stay fit to improving your flexibility. Let’s take a look at the details of these benefits: 

Planks:

  • Are a versatile exercise and can be modified from simple variations for beginners to highly challenging variations for more advanced athletes.
  • Are a full-body exercise that works the core, upper body, and legs all at the same time.
  • Improve posture and keep the body well-aligned.

Now that we know all the fantastic benefits of doing planks and how to perform the basic positions let’s look at 6 variations you can add to your training sessions to keep things fresh.

Plank Exercise Variations

#1: Plank Walk Out 

This is an excellent beginner plank variation, as you don’t need to hold the plank for a prolonged period of time if you are not up to it yet.

You can use this plank variation to gradually increase your time in the full plank position. As you advance, you can begin to skip the walkout and hold a full plank for a more extended period of time.

  1. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Roll down and place your hands on the floor in front of you and walk your hands out until you have reached a full plank. 
  3. Hold this position for a second or two (or longer, depending on your fitness level), and then walk your hands back to your feet, bending your knees slightly, and standing back up.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

 #2: Up-Down Plank

This exercise combines a plank and push-up, so we get extra upper-body work.

  1. Begin in an elbow plank position.
  2. First, straighten your right arm, and begin to push yourself up, supporting yourself on your palm.
  3. Now push yourself up on your left arm until you are in a full plank position. 
  4. Lower yourself down one arm at a time until you are back in an elbow plank. 
  5. Alternate which arm you push yourself up on first each time. 
  6. Repeat for the desired amount of time or reps. 

Note: As you move from your elbow to full plank and back again, you want to keep your body as firm as possible, trying not to move your hips. To do so, keep your core engaged at all times.

#3: Elbow Plank With Leg Lifts (+Resistance Band) 

For this plank variation, we will make our glutes work even harder. You can perform this exercise as we did, with a mini resistance band looped around your ankles for even more of a challenge, or perform the exercise without.

Either way, it will be a tough one!

  1. Loop a mini band around your ankles if using one. 
  2. Begin in an elbow plank position, core engaged, and body in a straight line from head to toe. 
  3. One by one, lift your legs off the ground toward the ceiling using your glutes. 
  4. Alternate legs. 
  5. Repeat for the desired amount of time or reps. 

#4: Spiderman Plank 

Now this one is really quite a challenge. 

  1. Begin in an elbow plank position, core engaged, and body in a straight line from head to toe. 
  2. Bend your right knee and bring it to your right arm keeping your inner thigh parallel to the floor.
  3. Return your right foot to its starting position and repeat with your left leg. 
  4. Alternate legs for the desired amount of time or reps. 

Note: As with most plank variations, keep your body as stable as possible and your hips up for the exercise duration. 

#5: Object Pull Plank 

For this plank, you will need a dumbbell or anything you can pull from one side to another that will challenge you. 

  1. Begin in a full plank position with your dumbbell just to the outside of your right hand. 
  2. Keeping your perfect plank position, take your left hand, cross it in front of your chest beneath you and grab the dumbbell. 
  3. In one smooth move, pull the dumbbell underneath you until it is just to the outside of where you will place your left hand. 
  4. Return to the full plank position and repeat on the other side. 
  5. Alternate for the desired amount of time or reps. 

#6: Star Plank 

A star plank.
  1. Begin in a side elbow plank position with your feet stacked one on top of another. 
  2. Tighten your core and lift your upper arm and leg to create a star shape. 
  3. Hold this position for the desired amount of time. 

Note: If your hips begin to sag, pull them back up and align them with the rest of your body. You can also move the upper leg up and down for 10 reps instead of holding it in the open star position for the entire time. 

There you have it! All of the basic plank positions and six variations to add to your workouts.

If you would like to add some other great strengthening exercises to your training program, you can check out our other exercise guides:

The Glute Bridge Exercise Explained + 6 Variations To Try

The Wall Sit Exercise, Explained In Detail + 8 Variations To Try

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Katelyn is an experienced ultra-marathoner and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for the trails. In the running community she is known for her ear to ear smile even under the toughest race conditions. She loves sharing her knowledge and experience with everyone and has a great desire to motivate others to hit the trails alongside her. Run for fun!

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