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Pumped-up Planks Article

Pumped-up planks

Target your core and more

It sure looks simple. But if you’ve ever done a plank, you know that looks can be deceiving.

When done using the correct form, planks are a challenging exercise, used primarily to strengthen your core. While it’s easy to get into plank position, it takes strength and endurance to pull it off for an extended time period.

"Planks are popular because they work. They really fire up your core, plus your entire back. “Planks really work everything — including muscles in your arms and legs. Planks are also great for posture, and they can help improve your balance."

Jordan Evans Health Fitness SpecialistWellmark's Well For Life Center

Once you’ve mastered a basic plank (see below), there are many variations that make the move more interesting. As an added benefit, you can work multiple muscle groups simultaneously.

“Planks are great for overall strength training and even for cardio,” says Evans. “Entire workouts can center around the plank. Adding movement will give you a challenge and make it more fun.”

For example, instead of targeting one muscle at a time, like a bicep curl, you can try an up-down plank or renegade rows (pictured below). These planks will target your shoulders, biceps and triceps, all while firming your core and back. You can customize your workout with countless versions of planks, according to Evans. “As you improve on your planks, you can challenge yourself with stability balls, weights and other variations.”

“If you’ve never planked before, I highly encourage you to talk to a trainer at a gym to make sure your form is correct,” suggests Evans. “Doing a plank incorrectly is not only ineffective, it could also cause an injury. Be particularly careful doing planks if you have back pain or injury.”

Illustration of a woman balanced on her elbows, then in push up position for a basic plank is shown.

Basic plank

Perform with perfect form.

Hold this pose for 20–30 seconds (or one set), and work your way up to a minute or more.

  • Start your plank from your elbows or on your hands (as pictured).
  • Holding your elbows (or hands) directly under your shoulders, hold your body in a straight line from your heels to the back of your head.
  • Avoid dropping or raising your hips, head or shoulders.
  • Engage your core by sucking your belly button into your spine.
  • Hold this pose (pictured) for 20–30 seconds (or one set), and work your way up to a minute or more.
  • Remember to breathe through your plank.
  • If you’re just starting out, hold the plank position for just a few seconds at a time. It is better to hold proper form for a short period of time than to hold improper form for longer.

Illustration of a woman in basic plank position, bringing right and then left knees to her elbows for mountain climber plank is shown.

Mountain climbers

A cardio plank that works the back and abdominals, plus arms and legs

Start with 3 sets of 20 seconds for each one, then bump your way up to 1 to 2 minutes each over time.

  • Start in plank position. Lift your right foot off the floor and raise your knee as close to your chest as you can.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat with your left leg.
  • Continue alternating legs for the recommended amount of time.

"If you’ve never planked before, I highly encourage you to talk to a trainer at a gym to make sure your form is correct,” suggests Evans. “Doing a plank incorrectly is not only ineffective, it could also cause an injury. Be particularly careful doing planks if you have back pain or injury."

Jordan Evans Health Fitness SpecialistWellmark's Well For Life Center

Illustration of a woman balanced on one elbow and facing to one side for side plank is shown.

Side plank

Works obliques, back, shoulders and biceps.

Start with 3 sets of 20 seconds for each one, then bump your way up to 1 to 2 minutes each over time.

  • Start by lying on one side with your legs stacked on top of one another on your feet.
  • Lift your hips and prop your body up on your elbow while keeping your feet stacked.
  • Just like a regular plank, your head should be in line with your back, and your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles.
  • Hold this position as recommended, then repeat on the other side.

Three illustrations of a woman starting in push up position from her wrists, then going down on her elbows for up-down planks are shown.

Up-down planks

Works your back and abdominals, biceps and shoulders.

Start with 3 sets of 20 seconds for each one, then bump your way up to 1 to 2 minutes each over time.

  • Start in plank position. While maintaining a strong, flat back, bend one arm down until the forearm is onto the floor.
  • Then, do the same with the other arm. Then “walk” your hands back up to a hand plank one arm at a time to get back to the beginning position. That’s one rep.
  • Repeat on other side, starting with the other arm.

"Quality is far more important than quantity. Drop to your knees if necessary, instead of balancing on your toes."

Jordan Evans Health Fitness SpecialistWellmark's Well For Life Center

Illustration of a woman in push up position raising her right then left foot for plank jacks is shown.

Plank Jacks

A cardio plank that works the back and abdominals, plus arms and legs.

Start with 3 sets of 20 seconds for each one, then bump your way up to 1 to 2 minutes each over time.

  • Start in the plank position.
  • Jump your feet out to the sides as if you were performing a jumping jack. Balance to keep your upper body still.
  • Return your feet to the starting position.
  • Repeat movement as recommended.

Illustration of a woman holding weights in basic push up position lifting each elbow for renegade rows is shown.

Renegade rows

Works the back and abdominals, biceps and shoulders.

Start with 3 sets of 20 seconds for each one, then bump your way up to 1 to 2 minutes each over time.

  • Start in a plank with a weight in each hand.
  • Draw left hand to rib cage (as shown). Keep the other hand planted to support your position.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
  • Continue alternating for the recommended amount of reps.

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