Time and time again we see people in the gym training their abs, and it’s probably the area of the body that we get asked about the most. What people are often looking for is a tight waist, flat stomach, and some sort of definition – along with bumps in the right places, which requires training of the entire core. Adding plank variations to your workout schedule stabilizes, strengthens and sculpts your core muscles, as well as targeting your shoulders, arms, and glutes – all while putting your mental strength to the test.
The core is split up into multiple muscles, with the rectus abdominus (ab) muscles only making up one aspect. If you want the well-rounded (or in fact flat and tight) core, what you need to do is train the core as a whole and not let any aspect lag behind.
The best way to train all muscles is to think of the core in three dimensions: forward and back, side to side and rotating – this is how the body moves and functions, so the core should naturally be trained like this.
You can either divide and conquer the individual muscles, but if you want the quick nip and tuck, you need to be able to show control and coordination within the individual muscles. To add muscle coordination to your core training schedule, planks are a great exercise, as not only can they include movement, but they also act against movement, training your body to become more stable.
Daily planking can also greatly benefit your performance in other exercises where the core is engaged, helping to maintain good posture and a strong and powerful position. If you focus on maintaining a good braced position with your pelvis and rib cage locked in position and your belly button pulled in, you’ll get all muscle fibres firing to sculpt and shape your abs for summer.
Daily Plank Variations
Here are 5 daily plank variations to keep your training progressive and train your core in 3D. For all of the variations, try to focus on maintaining a flat lower back and a tight upper back with your shoulder blades together and squeeze your belly button towards your spine.
Perform each one of these plank variations for 30 seconds (including each side in the side plank) each day for a 3-minute training routine you can perform anywhere. If these are feeling a little easy, you can spend longer on a harder variation or all variations, gradually increasing the total time under tension.
1. Traditional Plank
Even though this is the common go-to exercise, it can so often be done incorrectly. To benefit the most from the plank, ensure full contraction, then lock out your knees, squeeze your glutes and tuck your hips. This should intensify the position and you’ll start to shake earlier than you might normally! If it’s a little easy, march your feet up and down keeping your hips locked in position.
2. Side Plank
This is another underrated exercise, but has a huge amount of benefits – not only for aesthetics, but core function and spine health. For this variation, make sure your hips and your shoulders are completely square with one other and you aren’t leaning forward or rotating through the movement. To intensify it, add some hip dips by lowering and raising your hips toward the floor and back.
3. Reverse Plank
One of my favorite planks to throw in, but least favorite to do. You get a lot of glute and hamstring activation with this one (an area most are deficient with) as well as some good range of movement shoulder stability. Start sat on the floor with your legs straight, place your hands with fingers pointing forward behind you. Using your hands and heels, drive your hips as high as you can, keeping the engagement throughout.
4. Human Cannon Plank
This name is quite simply because you look like a cannon about to go ‘whoosh’ when performing this exercise. This is essentially a bear crawl position, starting on hands and knees, then lift the knees using your core and stay tight. Rock back and forth using your toes and hands to keep the body moving. Intensify the movement by putting the hands on medicine balls and alternating each hand, tapping your opposite foot.
5. Handstand Wall Plank
This variation can be taken as high as you like, and doesn’t need a wall. You could use a box that you step your feet onto. Start in a press up position with your feet next to a wall. Start to walk your feet up the wall and your hands back towards the wall. Slowly walk back to the press up position and repeat.
Take Home Message
Using these five plank variations is a simple way to train smarter, not harder, to make your training time more efficient. Just remember, the more you focus on your core while you’re planking, the better the benefits will be!