To plank or not to plank…
Are you even considering it?
I spent these last years trying to find out the best exercises and training routines that can help me get into the best shape of my life. And during this time, I came to the conclusion that the plank might be the most effective and versatile move in the fitness world.
Planks are some of the best exercises you can do to strengthen all of the major core muscles, including the upper and lower abs, obliques, lower back and glutes. Not only that, they can also target and strengthen the inner thighs, hamstrings, quads, back, shoulders, and arms. So they are an excellent full body exercise.
Image Credit – Amproshot via Flickr
The Core’s Importance for Runners
And as a runner, you can’t, literally, do too many planks. You need core strength more than any other person on the planet.
Core training and running go hand in hand. If you have a strong core, then you will be able to run faster and ward off injury by building and maintaining good form. A stable core helps you keep an upright posture when you run, and it’s economically efficient.
To learn more about it, check this post on the benefits of core training for runners.
Image Credit – Ian Thravis via Flickr
Core Training – The 13 Plank Variations Runners Need
Planks being planks are awesome, but that’s not the end of the story.
I mean, if you really, really, want to make the most out of them, then you need to start doing the variations as well.
Before I started doing some of the variations I’m sharing with you today, I was quite bored with the standard version. There are only a limited number of times before you starting getting bored with doing the same exercise over and over again.
Good news is there are so many plank variations you can play around with. This post mainly touches the surface, and I’m mostly sharing with you some of my favorites.
So without further ado, here are 13 ways to switch up the plank for a more powerful and efficient core training workout.
1. The Basic Plank
Here is the basic plank. Master it before you move to other variations
Assume a push-up position with your hands underneath the shoulders, core engaged, back straight, and body forming a straight line form head to ankles.
To stabilize the bottom half of your body, make sure squeeze your glutes and engage your lower leg muscles the entire time, but please don’t lock your knees. Instead, keep them a bit bent.
Avoid collapsing your back. Engage your abs by drawing your belly button toward your spine.
Keep it neutral
Keep your head neutral as if you are standing straight and staring forward. Allow for no tension here.
Keep a neutral spine the entire time. This is a common form mistake I see in planks is a sinking low back, and an arched back so allow no sagging here.
Keep your neck neutral by staring at the floor about one foot in front of your hands.
Beginners take it slow
If you are a beginner, then practice holding the good ol’ plank for nothing more than 20 seconds. As you get stronger, feel free to increase your hold time, until you can hold for two to three minutes without much trouble.
Image Credit – Stacy Jeanns via Flickr
2. Elbow Plank
This is similar to the standard plank, but performing this variation requires more core activation and it’s more challenging.
Begin by lying face down on a mat with elbows aligned under shoulders and forearms firmly on the mat.
Next, tuck your toes under, engage your quads, straighten your knees, then lift yourself up, and hold the position for one full minute.
3. Side Plank
Begin in a standard plank position, with the heels touching.
Next, while engaging your core muscles, lean to your right side lifting the left arm up toward the ceiling until you are balanced on one hand. Make sure to raise your hips up in the air until your body is forming a straight line from shoulders to ankles.
Hold the position for 30 to 45 seconds, then change sides to complete one set.
4. Reverse Plank
Sit on the flour with your legs extended, feet flexed, and hands just outside the hips. Make sure your fingertips are spread wide and facing forward. That’s your starting position.
Next, while pressing through your arms, raise your hips and torso as high as you can, aiming to form a straight line from chin to toes, hold for a count of three, then slowly lower down to starting position to complete one rep.
Do 8 to 10 reps to complete one set.
5. Plank Jacks
Assume a plank position with your feet together and core activated. Make sure your body is in one straight line.
Next, start doing jumping jacks by hopping the legs wide, then hopping them back together to complete one rep. Do it as quickly as you can with good form—back straight and body steady the entire time.
Shoot for 30 reps to complete one set.
6. Elbow Plank with Donkey Kick
Begin in an elbow plank position, with the back straight and core activated.
Next, bend your right knee at a 90 degree angle, flex the heel, and press the foot up toward the ceiling while keeping your pelvis steady and firm. Pause for a count of three, then slowly lower your right leg slightly, then repeat for at 8 to 10 times.
Change sides to complete one set.
7. Walking Planks
Begin in plank position with hands underneath the shoulders.
Next, to do the walking planks, lift your left hand and cross it over the right, as you step your right foot to the right. Then, move your right hand to the right beneath the left shoulder, and step with the left foot to the right.
To do it right, make sure your hands are moving together as the feet are stepping apart. And please, do your best to keep your back straight and core engaged the entire time. I can’t emphasis it enough.
To complete one set, continue crossing your hands for 10 steps to the right, then change direction and step back to the starting position.
8. Plank with One Arm Dumbbell Row
Get into a plank position with a dumbbell of a challenging weight in one hand. Make sure that your legs are wider than hip-width distance to help you with balance.
Next, row the dumbbell up your rib cage, pause for a moment, then slowly lower it down to complete one rep.
Do 8 to 10 reps on each side to complete one set.
9. Scorpion Plank
Assume a plank position on the elbows, then lift your right leg, bent at the knee, turn the hips, then reach the left over back, tapping your right toes on the floor on the left side. Last up, push back up to starting position to complete one rep.
Do 8 to 10 reps on each side to complete one set.
10. Plank with Shoulders Touches
Assume a standard plank position, with your arms straight below your shoulder.
To perform this variation, reach your left hand to touch your right shoulder, then put it back down and repeat with your right hand tapping your left shoulder to complete one rep. it’s that simple.
However, make sure your hips don’t sway side to side as you move. Instead, keep your focus on a tight and stable core the entire time.
11. X Plank
Begin in standard plank position with arms straight, core engaged as usual.
Next, to do the X plank, start walking your legs out laterally and hands out wider than shoulder apart, until your body is forming an X shape. Just do it slowly and stay within your fitness level. This plank variation is really challenging and requires a lot of core stabilization.
Hold the pose for 45 seconds to one full minute to complete one set.
12. Single Arm Plank
Begin in a standard plank position. Next, while keeping your back flat and core engaged, take your left hand off the floor, and extend it out in front of you. Reach as far as you can.
Hold the pose for 30-second then switch sides.
13. Wall Plank
Assume a plank position with feet against the wall so your body is parallel to the ground. That’s your starting position.
Hold this position for one full minute. Nonetheless, if you want to make it more challenging, draw your right leg off the wall up toward your chest, pause for a second, then push your feet to starting position.
Do 5 reps on each side to complete one set.
This variation is really challenging so feel free to do as many reps as you without losing form.
I know this is kind of a long list, but the more plank variations you do, the stronger you will get. Your core muscles need variety to grow stronger and firmer.
In the meantime, thank you for reading my post.
Feel free to leave your comments and questions below.
Featured Image Credit – Rich P via Flickr