Planks are what strong bodies are made of. They hit all your major ab muscles—especially the deep underlying ones that are responsible for improved exercise performance. Not to mention your back, shoulders, and butt. (Yes, really.)
You probably know how to do a plank, but just in case: Keep your body in a straight line from your head to your heels, shoulders directly over your elbows, pelvis tucked, and zero hike (or drop!) in your hips or upper back between your shoulder blades.
But don't forget to mix it up: "Adding some variations and dynamic movements to our planks challenges the core in different ways to make it even stronger," says personal trainer Kourtney A. Thomas, CSCS, owner of Lagniappe Fitness in St. Louis. That translates into faster mile times, stronger lifts, and, yes, hotter abs. Here are the five top plank variations your core is craving.
1. Slide Plank with Leg Lift
The side plank, in and of itself, is great for strengthening the side butt's gluteus medius, a commonly weak muscle in women, especially runners. But the added leg lift works it like woah, Thomas says. Plus, the added instability makes your abs and obliques pull double duty.
Instructions: Get into a side plank, your shoulder over your elbow and foot in line with your elbow. Make sure your top shoulder is stacked above your bottom one and your head is back. Keep the core engaged and slowly raise your top leg. Pause, and then lower back to starting position.
2. Reverse Plank
Because the only thing better than having a strong core is having a strong core, and back, and butt.
Instructions: Lying on the floor on your back, come up onto your forearms so that your elbows are directly underneath your shoulders. Squeezing your glutes, lift your hips off of the floor so that your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your heels.
3. High Plank with T-Spine Rotation
If you sit at a computer all day, or just sport a good slouch, this variation will help. "Not only is opening up the thoracic spine beneficial for getting more mobility in the upper body, it also feels great if the front body is a little tight," she says.
Instructions: Get into a high plank position, your shoulders over your wrists. Keeping your core engaged and both arms fully extended, lift one arm up toward the ceiling, twisting through the upper back and chest (not through the lower back, you'll feel the difference!) until your hand is straight over the other. Pause, then slowly lower your hand back down to the floor, and then repeat the movement on the opposite side.
4. Plank Drag
"Walking the arms and pulling your body weight along steps the plank up to a whole new level," Thomas says. The extra effort does wonders for your chest and shoulders, while still challenging your core.
Instructions: Get into a high plank with your toes on something that slides (try a towel on a hardwood floor, a paper or plastic plate on carpet, or tool like a Gliding Disc or Valslide). With your core engaged and shoulders set, walk your hands forward, pulling your body behind you. Make sure to keep your body in a straight line and only use your upper body to move forward.
5. Stability-Ball Plank
"Add a stability ball, and you'll be working nearly twice as hard," she says. "Because you're working so hard just to stabilize yourself on this unstable surface, your core muscles are working at a much higher level."
Instructions: With a stability ball on the ground in front of you and knees on the ground, place your forearms on top of the ball. Pressing down into the ball and squeezing your glutes, lift up into plank position. Hold the position, making sure your shoulders stay over your elbows and your body remains in a straight line.