ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, 5 Ways to Change Up Your Plank, Plus Mistakes to Avoid

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5 Ways to Change Up Your Plank, Plus Mistakes to Avoid

Reading Time: 4 minutes 23 seconds

By: ISSA

Date: 2021-08-06T00:00:00-04:00


The plank is an effective bodyweight exercise that will leave your clients' core muscles burning. Planks require a level of focus and struggle that some people seek, and others despise. Whether clients love them or hate them, when done correctly, planks are a great way to increase core strength.

There are many different variations of the standard plank position. However, before you modify the standard plank, it's important to learn how to do it correctly. We'll outline the correct form, explore some of our favorite plank variations, and include a few of the most common mistakes.

The Standard Plank (Forearm Plank)

With only bodyweight and very little movement, you would think this exercise would be easy. But, the forearm plank (also called elbow plank or even low plank) can make your clients sweat and wish that time would move faster!

How to do it:

  • Your client will begin on all fours and bend their elbows to rest their forearms on the floor.

  • Shoulders should be directly over the elbows.

  • They will extend both feet behind them and raise the hips so their forearms and toes are the only things touching the floor.

  • The neck should be in alignment with the spine (eyes pointing toward the ground) and the hips should be high enough to create a straight line with the head, spine, and heels.

  • With the tailbone tucked and the glutes and core muscles engaged, the client will hold this position for a set time (usually 30+ seconds).

Plank Variations

The following list includes five of our favorite plank variations to change up your core workout and really engage that muscle group.

1. Straight Arm Plank

This plank variation, also called high plank, is very similar to the standard plank, but it has one small difference.

How to do it:

  • The client will begin the exercise on all fours.

  • Instead of resting their bodyweight on the forearms, clients will press the palms of their hands into the floor, keeping the shoulders directly above the wrists.

  • Just like the standard plank, the head should stay in alignment with the spine, hips tucked, and the glutes and core engaged.

  • The feet, hips, and head should create a straight line (but will slightly angle down from the head to the toes).

2. Plank Rocks

The plank rocks variation is very similar to the basic plank but with a little movement.

How to do it:

  • Clients should begin in standard plank form with their elbows and toes pressing into the ground, core engaged, hips lifted, and spine and head in alignment.

  • They will gently rock their entire body forward toward their hands and then backward toward their feet while maintaining the standard plank position.

  • The core should remain engaged and hips lifted throughout the entire movement.

  • The client will rock forward and backward for a set number of reps or a set period of time.

3. Side Plank

Side planks are a great exercise to target the sides of the core muscle group (obliques) for maximum core strength.

How to do it:

  • Have your client lie on their right side with legs extended and stacked on top of each other—left leg on top of right leg.

  • The right arm—elbow and forearm—should be resting on the ground with the elbow directly under the shoulder.

  • With the head in alignment with the spine, the client will engage the core and lift the hips toward the ceiling.

  • The opposite arm (left arm in this case) should rest on top of the side of the body or reach up toward the ceiling.

  • The body should be in a straight slant from head to toe.

  • The client will hold this position for 15+ seconds and repeat on the opposite side.

4. Suspension Planks

Is the standard plank exercise not challenging enough for your clients? Have them try this plank exercise.

How to do it:

  • Your client will begin this core exercise in a straight arm plank position.

  • They will situate their feet just in front of the suspension straps (straps should be raised a few inches off the ground—high enough to create a straight line from head to toe when the legs and feet are in the straps and parallel to the ground.

  • Place feet in the suspension straps, flex the ankles, and raise the hips toward the ceiling.

  • The head should be in alignment with the spine, shoulders over the wrists, and body in a straight line from head to toe (parallel with the floor).

  • They will keep the abdominal muscles engaged and hold the position for 15+ seconds.

5. Reverse Plank

Target the posterior (back) side of the body in your plank workout by giving the plank a little flip.

How to do it:

  • Your client will sit upright on the ground with their legs extended out in front of them.

  • Palms should gently rest on the ground, next to the hips with the fingers pointing straight ahead toward the toes.

  • The client will press the pelvis up toward the ceiling and engage the glutes.

  • The weight of the body should be on the palms and heels, and the body should be in a straight, angled line from the head to the toes.

  • Hold the position for 10+ seconds.

3 Common Mistakes

As a personal trainer, there are a few key mistakes to watch for during your client's plank pose.

  • Allowing the hips to sink: Sinking hips can put strain on the lower back. The core should stay engaged and hips lifted so the spine is in a straight line from head to toe.

  • Looking forward: The head should stay in alignment with the spine through the entire exercise. Looking up can put stress on the cervical spine.

  • Lifting the hips too high: This is a compensation when the core muscles aren't strong enough to hold the proper position.

With the traditional plank and all variations, proper form is more important than the length of time a client can hold the plank. As with all exercises, it's essential to have a good grasp on proper form as well as ways you can modify the exercise to make it more challenging for clients.

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