Planks are the MacGyver of bodyweight movements: They're super tough and great for almost any situation. The versatile move is best known for working your core, but planks also engage more than 20 muscles, including your shoulders, back, arms, legs, and glutes. Even better, planks allow you to work your core without the risks of back injury and overstressed hip flexors that come with traditional sit-ups.
To master proper form of the good ol’ fashioned basic plank, start with the beginner exercises. Practice holding each move for 30 seconds at a time, adding 15 seconds each time you work out. Once you can hold a basic plank for a minute, move on to the intermediate and advanced variations that will transform you into a plank pro. (At the very least, this will take your planking game to a whole new level and make all your friends on Instagram jealous.)
These basic planks will form the foundation of all the other moves on this list. Get these down first, and as your strength, balance, and endurance improves, move on to the more challenging variations.
When it comes to planks, form is everything. Paying close attention to form not only ensures you’ll get a great workout, but also that you’re protecting your body from injury. Start in tabletop position, kneeling on the floor with hands directly below your shoulders. Lift your knees until you are supporting your weight on just your toes and hands. (As if you are, you know, a plank!). Spread your fingers to make a wide, stable base. Line up your shoulders over your hands and heels over toes. Hold your body in a straight line from the top of your head down to your heels. Hold your core in tight, being careful not to let your stomach sag or your back round out.
From a basic plank, rock forward on your toes until your shoulders move past your hands. Then push your shoulders backward until your heels extend beyond your toes. Move slowly and in a controlled manner to challenge your balance, coordination, and shoulder strength. This move can be done on your hands or forearms.
3. Knee Plank
If holding a basic plank is too difficult, try lowering your knees to the floor. Keep your back straight and core tight—imagine drawing your bellybutton to your spine (rather than sucking in your stomach). Practice holding it until you can work up to a full standard plank.
From a standard plank position, reach your right hand to touch your left shoulder. Put it back down and repeat with your left hand tapping your right shoulder. Even though you're basically doing the Macarena, do not let your hips sway side to side as you move. If it helps, imagine a glass of water (or a margarita!) resting on your back. This will keep the focus on a tight and stable core.
5. Side Plank
Starting in standard plank position, bring your legs together until your heels touch. Lean to your left while lifting your right arm up toward the ceiling until you are balanced on one hand.
Starting from standard plank position, lower yourself until you’re resting on your forearms. Keep forearms parallel to each other with hands flat on the ground or clasped together if that's more comfortable.
Sit on the ground with your legs extended in front of you and arms at your sides. Place hands on the floor next to your hips, fingers pointing towards your feet. Lift your hips as high as you can, aiming for a straight line from chin to toes. You may discover here that your shoulders aren’t as flexible as you thought; just take it slow. And, you know, try not to cry.
8. TRX Plank
Adjust the TRX straps so that they’re approximately 12 inches from the ground. Face away from the TRX and kneel down. Place your feet in the toe loops. (There's no graceful way to do this—however you get them in without falling on your face is fine!) Crawl forward until your body is extended and ready for plank position. Place your hands or forearms on the floor in front of you. Lift your knees up so your body is in a straight line.
Begin in tabletop position on your hands and knees. Keeping your core tight, back straight, and legs bent (at a 90-degree angle), lift your knees off the ground. You are now balancing on your hands and toes. Crouching tiger, hidden abs?
Now that you’re planking like a boss, step up your game by adding some movement and asymmetric balancing. Not only will this increase the number of muscles worked, these moves will also improve your coordination and endurance.
10. Walking Plank
Take your plank on the move by adding an up-and-down motion. Assume standard plank position on hands and toes. Slowly lower right arm down to your forearm then bring your left arm down as well so you are now supported by your forearms. Then place your right hand on the ground and begin to push your body back up, allowing your left hand to follow. Repeat, allowing your left arm to lead. Sing “Follow the Leader” to keep your rhythm. Ignore any weird looks at the gym; they're just jealous.
11. Chaturanga Plank
From standard plank position, making sure your shoulders are directly above your hands, slowly lower yourself until your body is in line with your arms. Keep your elbows touching your ribs and your core tight so nothing touches the floor except your hands and toes. Imagine the ground is hot lava (or, you know, any other surface you wouldn’t want to come into contact with. Floor of a movie theater, anyone? Get creative—it will make the time go faster!)
12. Extended Plank
Add some extra shoulder work to your standard plank by extending your arms as far in front of you as you can while still maintaining proper plank form.
13. X Plank
You don't have to be one of the X-Men to do this variation (Although it wouldn't hurt! We'll keep your secret). Start in standard plank. Move your legs out laterally until your feet are planted wider than hip-width apart. If this feels tough enough, you can stay in this position (a Y plank, perhaps?). You can add some extra upper-body work by walking your hands out wider than shoulder-width apart, until you’re in a full X.
Using a BOSU (bubble side up), kneel and place your forearms on the top of the bubble. Lift your knees until you are in a plank. Hold!
Remember the walking plank (see No. 10)? Well, now you're turning your gentle stroll into more of a hike. Start in standard plank position with your hands on the bubble side of the BOSU. Lower to your forearms one at a time. Return back up to a basic plank. Repeat, leading with the opposite hand.
16. Single-Arm Plank
Test your balance and your strength! Start in standard plank position. Slowly lift your right arm, extending it out in front of you. Keep your back flat (resist the urge to tilt your hips to the left) and imagine you’re reaching for that one thing you’ve always wanted but could never quite get. Like that My Pretty Pony you asked for your birthday four years in a row. No? Just me?
17. Single-Leg Plank
Start in standard plank position. Lift one leg up behind you, keeping your body flat and both the extended and supporting legs straight. Repeat on the other side.
From a side plank, press down into the floor with your bottom foot while lifting your top leg as high as you can go without bending at the waist (i.e. without dropping your hips). Try it on your forearm first for more stability, then work up to doing it on your hand. And if you're P!nk, do it hanging upside down from a rubber sling 20 feet above a stage while singing. No pressure.
You know the drill: Start in standard plank position. Slowly bring your right knee underneath and across your body, toward the inside of your left elbow. Again, just get it as close as you can without dropping your right shoulder and hip. Repeat on the other side.
Start with a standard plank. Slowly bring your right knee toward the outside of your right elbow. You'll be tempted to look back to see how close your knee is—don't do it! It will make you round your shoulders and drop your hips. Just get it as close as you can without losing your form. If you can get it all the way to touch, you get extra credit and are excused from Friday's final exam. Repeat on the other side.
Begin in a side plank. Push into the floor with your bottom foot and lift your top leg. Bend your knee and bring it in to touch your top elbow. Try not to lean forward or backward. (You are not a little teapot!) Repeat on the other side.
Kneel, facing away from a stability ball. Lift one leg behind you and place your shin or foot on the ball. (The ball will likely have rolled away from you at this point, as balls do. It helps at first to position the ball in front of a wall so it can't go far when it escapes.) Lift your other leg onto the ball. Straighten out into a plank position. Use your forearms or hands, depending on the height of the ball and how well you’re able to balance.
Cue up The Little Mermaid soundtrack and get into a side plank position. Drop your bottom hip toward the ground. Then reverse the movement and lift your hip up as high as you can—you're a beautiful rainbow! Sing-along optional (but we’re in favor of it).
Start by sitting on the ground with your legs extended in front of you and your arms at your sides. Plant your hands firmly on each side and lift your hips up as high as they'll go. Lower them slowly toward the ground (without touching it) and then lift them again. To make it a bit easier, start with bent knees and work up to keeping your legs straight.
Start in a reverse plank with your hips lifted and head facing forward. Lift one leg as high as you can without bending your waist. Repeat on the other side. Take it slow; you're not doing the can-can.
26. Plank Hip Dips
From standard plank position, slowly dip both hips to the right side. Go down as far as is comfortable without touching the floor. Lift back up to a plank and repeat on the other side. On the last one, feel free to drop to the floor and banana-roll a few feet. Wait for applause; you earned it!
This one is as good for your brain as it is your abs! (Six-pack brains? Why not!) Kneel, facing a stability ball. Place your forearms on the ball and then lift your knees so you are in a plank position. Moving the ball with your elbows, “write” your name in cursive. Try just your first name to begin with (unless it's “Ed,” in which case you should write someone else’s (longer) name). Work up to writing your full name. Or, write your first name combined with the last name of your crush, just like junior high but minus the public humiliation!
Kneel facing away from a TRX. Reach behind you and place your feet in the stirrups. Plant your hands and lift your knees, straightening out into a plank position. Open your legs up as wide as you can and then slowly bring them back together, working both your outer and inner hips and legs.
From a side plank, lift your top arm straight up, as if you are giving your imaginary friend a high five. (If you have a real friend, feel free to really high-five them.) Bending slightly at the waist, reach down and "thread" your top arm through the armpit gap between your side and the floor. You should feel a deep side crunch. Return to your original position and repeat on the other side.
30. Plank Jacks
Start in a standard plank with your legs together. Jump your feet out as if you were doing a horizontal jumping jack. Jump feet back together. (If jumping is too tough, you can always start by walking your legs out one at a time.) Just don’t try to add jumping jack arms; in a fight between you and gravity, gravity always wins.
31. Rowing Plank
Holding a medium-weight dumbbell in each hand, get into standard plank position. Make sure your weights have flat edges or you won’t be able to balance on them. Bend your right elbow and slowly lift it up toward the ceiling, keeping your elbow in tight by your side. Lower the weight and repeat on the other side.
If you’re really ready for a challenge, then you’ll love these circus tricks, er, advanced plank variations. They will test your balance, core strength, and tolerance for people staring at you while you work out. (Don’t worry, they’re just in awe of your strength and ingenuity. That and the puddle of sweat beneath you.)
32. Bird Dog Plank
Begin in a standard plank. Lift your right leg straight behind you, then lift your left arm straight in front of you. Keep your body in a straight line from fingertip to toe. You’ll soon discover that this works your core and your balance in a major way.
33. Fingertip Plank
This one is exactly what it sounds like, so don't overthink it. Also, don't break your fingers. Or our fingers, for suggesting you try this.
Flip the BOSU so the bubble is on the floor and the flat side is facing up. Kneel facing the BOSU and place both hands on top of it, gripping the edges. Lift your knees up into plank position. Hold here for a workout! But for a real core challenge, slowly start to shift your bodyweight side-to-side and forward-and-back. Real pros do it with their eyes closed. On one leg. In a sea of sharks. Okay, maybe not the sharks.
Starting in a forearm plank, push up to your hands. Lower back down to your forearms, both arms at the same time. It sounds easier than it is so just keep practicing until you get the motion down. But once you do, feel free to ordain yourself the Oracle and start dispensing sage advice.
36. Plank Rollout
Start in a forearm plank with your arms on a stability ball. Push your arms forward to move the ball a few inches away from you. Hold there for several seconds then roll it back in. It’s a very small movement but you’ll feel it in a big way!
Start in a side plank and place your top foot on the ground just behind your bottom foot. Lift your bottom leg, using your top foot to stabilize you. You can stick with the leg lift or bring your knee up to your elbow for a crunch. Fun fact: If you lean too far backward you’ll feel a sharp pain in your groin, so be careful and go slowly! (Okay, that’s not so much fun as it is just fact.)
Grab a towel (if you're on a wood or cement floor) or two paper plates (if you're on carpet). Get into standard plank position with your feet on the towel/plates. Walk your hands forward 10 paces, dragging your legs behind you. The towel/plates should allow your feet to slide over the floor.
Get into a forearm plank with both feet on a weight plate. Using your forearms, drag your body forward, pulling the plate behind you, just like Ursula dragging her tentacled booty out of the ocean. (Some people call this the “army plank crawl,” but sea witches are way more entertaining.)
40. Plank Plate Drag
This move can be a real drag (sorry) but you’ll appreciate how well it works your abs. Get into a standard plank with both feet on a weight plate (experiment a bit to find a weight that’s challenging for you). Contracting your core, drag the plate toward you until you are in a crouched position. Push the plate back out with your legs and repeat.
41. Scorpion Plank
Scorpions may sting but this plank definitely causes its own kind of pain! Start in a standard plank. Raise your left leg, bent at the knee. (That's your stinger!) Lower yourself halfway to the ground by bending your arms and reach your left leg over your back, touching your left toe to the ground on your right side. Push back up and repeat on the other side.
Once you've mastered the bird dog plank (No. 32), try reaching your left arm and right leg out to the side, making a 90-degree angle with each limb.
Lift one leg at a time, placing your feet on a stability ball. (If you want a fancy party trick, start with the ball in front of you and roll all the way over it, into a plank. You're Superman!) From the plank position, pull your knees in toward your chest, crunching your abs and pulling the ball toward you. Push the ball back out with your legs.
This move is similar to plank crunches (No. 43), but requires more balance and core strength. From a plank position with your feet on the ball, jackknife your body (hips up!), bringing the ball in toward your hands. Keep your legs straight and try to get your hips as close to over your shoulders as you can. Your butt should be straight up in the air.
Three is the magic number! Start in a plank position with your toes in the TRX stirrups. Crunch your knees in toward your left elbow then back out, bring them in toward your chest then back out, and then crunch toward your right elbow and back out—these three crunches equal one rep!
Start in a standard plank with your legs slightly wider than hip-width apart. Keeping your right leg as straight as possible, bring it under your body until you can tap your foot with your left hand. Repeat on the other side. You should also feel a nice stretch in your hamstrings! Caution: This move is not recommended for anyone with T-rex arms.
Place both feet on paper plates and lift up into a standard plank. Maintaining plank position (you know, without sticking your butt up in the air), bring your right foot forward toward your hands. Quickly switch your left foot forward. Alternate quickly back and forth, like you're running in place. On your hands. Because you're a bear.
Thanks to our plank model, Sarah Pope!
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