The Plank. We’re not talking about carpentry or what pirates make prisoners walk off, but an amazing exercise that simultaneously strengthens many of your body’s most critical muscles—your core.

It tightens your belly…provides better support for your lower back…increases flexibility in your shoulders and the arches of your feet and your toes…improves your posture…and helps you keep your balance when you’re out and about during your busy day.

How can one single exercise that you do for only 30 seconds to a minute do all this? We’ll tell you. And we’ll show you seven ways to do it, from easy to challenging, with variations to strengthen different muscle groups…

PLANK 101

The main focus for any plank pose is on the area between your hips and your shoulders—your core. All of the plank positions below work your core, and all but the last one work your gluteals—your butt muscles. The variations target specific muscle groups—to strengthen the muscles in your chest, shoulders, arms, legs and back.

The first one, the High Plank, is the basic form. It’s the best one to get started with—and also the easiest one to customize. If you want a little more challenging core workout, try the Front Plank.

With each position, start by holding it for 10 to 15 seconds. As you get stronger, increase the time—aiming for a goal of one minute. Start with the stationary poses first. Once you can hold a stationary pose for one minute, challenge yourself with one or more of the mobile poses. It’s fine to increase your planking time if you want even more challenge!

STATIONARY PLANKS

High Plank

Hi Plank_silo2Tones your core and gluteals (butt muscles).

Lying on your stomach, lift your body so that you’re supported on your hands (flat on the floor) and your toes, arms straight. It looks like a push-up. Pay attention to keeping your abdominals taut and maintaining your body in a straight line from your head to your ankles.


Front Plank
Front_plank_red2
Tones your core and gluteals and also your chest, shoulders, arms and legs.

Lying on your stomach, lift your body so that you are supported by your forearms and your toes. Your elbows should align under your shoulders. Maintain your body in a straight line from your head to your ankles, making sure not to lift your head or arch or curve your lower back. Squeeze your gluteal and abdominal muscles while pressing your elbows into the floor.


Side Plank
Side_Plank_silo
Tones your core and gluteals and also your obliques (muscles on the side of the torso that help you turn from side to side) and hips.

Lying on your right side, prop yourself up on your right elbow and forearm, with your elbow aligned directly under your shoulder and your feet stacked. Now tighten your abdominals and lift your hips off the floor. Your head, shoulder, hips and feet should line up straight. As you lift your hips, push your elbow into the floor for stability.

Switch sides and repeat.

 

MOVING PLANKS

High Plank with Alternating Shoulder Touch
Tones your core and gluteals and also your upper chest, back and legs.

Start with the High Plank. In a smooth, alternating movement, balance on your left hand only and touch your right hand to your left shoulder…then bring your right hand down, and touch your left hand to your right shoulder. Repeat for one minute (or however long you can).


Plank Jacks
Tones your core and gluteals and also your legs.

While holding a Front Plank position, continuously move your legs together and then apart—as if you were doing jumping jacks. Keep your upper body stable, maintaining a straight line…avoid raising your hips out of alignment.


Mountain Climber Plank

Mountain_Climber_silo2Tones your core and gluteals and also your upper arms and legs.

While holding a High Plank position, bring your left knee in toward your chest, pointing your toe, and then extend it back to its starting position. Bring your right knee in toward your chest and extend back to start. Continue alternating legs in a smooth movement while maintaining your upper body in a stable position.


Twisting Plank

Tones your core and also your obliques, shoulders and arms.

Begin in a Front Plank position. Then turn your body so that you’re supported on just your right forearm and lift your left arm straight up toward the sky. Bring your arm back down into the Front Plank…then turn and do the same on your left side, lifting your right arm toward the sky. Alternate side to side, aiming for a goal of holding for 30 seconds on each side.

Here’s to happy planking—and a stronger, more supple, flexible and injury-resistant body!

Note: The images in this story that demonstrate High Plank, Side Plank, and Mountain Climber Plank are used with permission, courtesy of the American Council on Exercise.