8 Plank Variations That Don’t Suck
I know what you may be thinking.
“Really, Tony. An article covering planks? What’s next: Something on best exercises for a jacked Tibialis Anterior? Or, no, wait….NASCAR?”
I get it.
Planks aren’t the sexiest or most exciting topic on Earth. And they certainly aren’t an exercise that get people jazzed up to go to the gym and train.
Well, traditional planks aren’t anyway.
Today’s guest post by Cleveland based personal trainer, Michael Anderson, showcases some variations that may change your mind.
8 Plank Variations That Don’t Suck
The traditional front plank is one of the most well known and least useful exercises we have available to us.
There are various figures but the world record for a plank hovers between eight and ten hours. There are exactly zero useful strength exercises that you can do for eight hours.
The plank makes sense in theory: In that position you’re forcing your anterior core musculature to support your spine in a way it isn’t used to and will result in strength and stability increases.
Truthfully, it can be useful for this purpose, but it gets out of hand really quickly.
People always think that adding time to their plank is the right thing to do, but end up with some horrific Gollum-esque posture; neck cranked forward, low back sagging, butt up in the air just grimacing their way to an extra 5 seconds on their personal record.
I’m here to tell you that there are much better ways to train core stability (anti flexion / extension) than just hanging out watching the timer on your phone. In fact, I’ve got eight better planks you can try instead of the normal plank. I’ll even be a sweetheart and list them in what I believe is the easiest to hardest.
1. Foot March Plank
I like this as one of my first progressions from a static plank because it’s a very familiar position to most people.
Marching your feet just an inch or so off of the floor adds a substantial anti-rotation component to the exercise, and your client will recognize it very quickly.
2. Elbow Tap Plank
Like the foot march plank, this increases difficulty by taking away a point of contact but feels much more difficult than moving your feet.
I like to make my clients move through this very slowly and deliberately to help reduce the amount of hip swinging they get. I find it helps to keep your hands centered on your chest and adjust the width of your feet to increase or decrease difficulty.
3. Bent Knee Side plank with Clamshell
I actually think I dislike static side planks more than static front planks because people end up in really dog-shit positions really quickly.
A good “hack” to fix this is utilizing the bent knee side plank, which makes it easier to stay in a good position by shortening the length of the lever (your body).
To get even more out of this exercise, throw a band around your knees and hit a clamshell. You’ll be training anti-lateral flexion as well as a few aspects of your hips while you’re at it. I utilize these as both a core exercise and as a filler/activation exercise paired with squats or deadlifts.
4. Plate Drag Plank
This is very much a progression of the elbow touch plank and allows you to load it externally.
There are lots of other videos of people using kettlebells, sandbags and even heavy ropes to do these.
5. Side Plank with Wall Slide
The first time I did these was during Eric Cressey’s “Show and Go” program.
I saw them on the program for that day and watched his video and thought it would be no big deal.
Got set up for my first rep and as soon as I lifted my leg I folded like a chair.
My athletes have given this exercise various names like “The Devils Exercise” and “if I see this again next month I’m gonna punch you in the junk”.
But give them a shot, I swear you’ll like it…
6. Bench Plank with Row
This gets really brutal really fast.
I personally don’t really chase the weight of the row portion of the exercise as I prefer the plank to be the emphasis and to be controlled perfectly. It’s nice to get a little extra rowing in with this exercise, but always be in control of the dumbbell.
7. 8 Point Plank
I thought I’d throw a curveball at you by making the two most difficult variations here static planks!
I just learned this variation recently and it’s really pretty amazing.
I underestimated it at first and then found myself shaking like a leaf in a windstorm within five seconds of starting it.
Putting your knees on the ground and posteriorly tilting your pelvis will help to remove your quads and hip flexors from the equation and then moving your elbows out under your eyes lengthens the “bridge” a little more.
If it feels not so hard to you, then you really need to focus on that pelvic tilt!
8. RKC Plank
This is a static plank, but barely.
The technique described in the video is called the “Zip Up” technique and I like to go through those steps before every rep of this plank.
I typically ask my clients to do three, 10-second holds with a quick break in between each rep.
You end up with a 30 second plank, but the most intense 30 seconds possible. If you don’t say “holy shit” as soon as you finished, then you did it wrong.
If you’re going to train your core, you might as well be doing something that’s legitimately effective and won’t take up 7 minutes per set.
Try these out and let me know how they go for you.
About the Author
Mike is a personal trainer and strength coach living in Cleveland with his fiance and adorable pit bull.
He is the owner of Anderson Strength and Fitness, the strength coach for Healthy Green Athlete and is an all around badass dude. You can follow him on Instagram HERE or shoot him an email at AndersonStrengthTraining@gmail.com.