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The Plank Abs Exercise: 3 Variations

By Marc Perry / February 20, 2016

The plank is a classic abs exercise that can help beginners develop their core strength and more advanced exercisers to burnout the entire abs complex at the end of a tough abs workout. The video includes 3 variations of the plank that you can use to build more core strength. There are more detailed descriptions of each variation below, as well as other plank variations and some ideas on how to incorporate the plank in your workout.

1) Basic Plank

The Basic Plank is simply holding your hips in the air with your core while resting your weight on your forearms and keeping your legs off the ground. An easier version of the plank is to put your knees against the ground instead of your toes. To complete a set, hold for as long as you can until you can’t maintain proper form (hips start to cave in), or for timed intervals. I want to emphasize that it’s important to stop the exercise not when you simply can’t hold for any longer, but when your form starts to deteriorate, which is usually at least a few seconds before you “fail”.

I would recommend beginners complete this exercise at the beginning of a core workout, and more advanced exercisers complete at the very end. So if you are completing let’s say 6-9 sets of abs, the plank should be the last couple sets to really help engage the entire abs complex and get a nice muscle burn. To make the exercise even more challenging, feel free to add a weighted plate (25lbs for example) on your lower back. To emphasize your lower back, you can perform the plank face up so your propping up your body with your elbows.

2) Plank with Alternating Leg Lifts

I like this exercise to help improve not only core strength, with more emphasis on the lower back and glutes, but mainly for balance. There are little muscles in your back and core that are engaged when completing this exercise. Shoot for 10-15 leg lifts each side controlling the leg lifts with a tempo of 1 second up, hold for another second in the air, then one second down.

3) Plank with Arms Extension

This version of the plank places extra emphasis on the triceps and shoulders to a lesser degree. This version, which can take your mind off the abs burn may be helpful if staying stationary in the plank position seems boring, or just plain painful (in terms of muscle burn of course). You should not feel any undue pressure on your lower back as you perform any of the plank exercises.

I hope this video and more detailed descriptions were helpful for you to begin incorporating this movement in your exercise regimen. There are few exercises that help engage the full core, both abs and lower back as effectively as the plank.


  • Darryl K says:

    Marc - What are you thoughts on using inflatable balls to do planks? Good idea as it tests balance further or too much risk of lateral elbow damage as the pose weakens toward the end of a set? ...Keep the great articles coming!

    • Marc Perry says:

      @ Darryl - Thanks for mentioning planks on an exercise ball. I think it's a more advanced version of the plank for sure because you have to balance on an unstable surface. I'm a big believer in going by feel with exercises, so if at the end you feel that it hurts your elbows, then I wouldn't do it. If you don't feel any unnecessary pain, then I would go for it. One more quick thing, I prefer dong planks on the Bosu ball than on an exercise ball if you have it in your gym. Thanks for leaving a comment!

  • R4 says:

    It looks so effortless in the video - I consider myself reasonably fit but planks completely destroy me! Haha

    • Marc Perry says:

      @R4 - That's really funny. My sister pointed out the same thing. She thought it was funny I was talking completely normally while doing the plank for a good minute in the video. You'll get there soon if you keep it up!

  • Paul Christian says:

    After 2 years of training .Machine weights.Pushups.pullups.Running & Swimming. Completed a 25min plank last week. What I found my arms got tired first. By the way did I mention I turn 60 on July4 2011? Here's a tip: get the iPod out of your ears and focus on what your doing. Best of luck.

  • Toni says:

    I never believed in the power of planks until recently. I used to be shaking while perspiring like crazy and could only hold it for like 10 seconds. I just kept at it and I'm up to about 90 seconds now. Doing them on a consistent basis has literally helped rid my lower abdomen of the "pooch" from two pregnancies. I personally like the planks with alternating leg extensions. They help with lifting your buttocks too, making it seem a little higher and less saggy.

  • Lopez says:

    Hello Marc,
    thanks for another great tip. I am not sure what i am doing wrong but i don't feel my stomach burning anymore. i do plank for 45secs to 60secs (a set) and that is because my arms wont hold anymore not because i feel my stomach burn. and even the next morning, i still dont feel it burn. something i noticed though, people suggest you should pull ur tummy in during plank but i find that a bit difficult to do while still breathing.
    thanks again for the piece.