The Best Exercise To A Strong, Tight Core (and 22 Ways To Do It)

by tinareale on February 2, 2012

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times – in my opinion, the plank is THE best abdominal exercise. Our abdominal muscles aren’t just for show. The core impacts so much in our training and our everyday lives. Just as a home needs a solid foundation, our body needs a solid core. And we must start on the inside.

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The core is divided into a stabilization and a movement system. We can easily believe that jumping into 500 crunches daily will give us a tightened stomach. Sure, crunches will strengthen the movement system of our abdominal muscles…but it won’t get you very far without a strong base. Having a strong stabilization system helps us to use our strength and power in other parts of the body more efficiently and effectively. It also prevents injury, improves posture, and draws the muscles in for a tighter look. Who doesn’t want that?

What is one way to challenge those inner core stabilization muscles? You guessed it! Planks! And luckily for all of us, a wide variety of planks exist to keep our bodies guessing – which keeps us challenged and motivated. Below, I have put together a few short videos that showcase some of my favorite plank variations. Enjoy!

Elbow Plank Variations

 

including:

  • elbow plank on knees (beginner plank)
  • elbow plank
  • hip dips in plank position
  • rocking plank
  • plank jacks
  • up/down plank

Straight Arm Plank Variations

including:

  • straight arm plank
  • straight arm plank with leg lift
  • walking plank
  • spiderman plank
  • plank twist into side plank

Side Plank Variations

including:

  • side plank on knees (beginner)
  • side plank
  • side plank with hip dips
  • side plank with oblique crunch
  • side plank with oblique twist
  • side plank with leg lift

Some other plank options include:

Put a few together for a challenging core workout. Start building a solid foundation, flattening that stomach, and strengthening your body’s movement all in a few minutes.

Do you like planks? Which variation is your favorite? What’s the longest you’ve held a plank?

{ 91 comments }

1 Katie @ Raisins&Apples February 2, 2012 at 6:49 am

we did side planks with hip dips in my circuit class Tuesday night and I am feeling it this morning! I love all the elbow plank variations, I’ll have to pass that on to some friends at the gym with weak wrists.

2 Gina @ Running to the Kitchen February 2, 2012 at 6:55 am

Love planks! My secret to holding them longer is to play around on twitter or instagram. Time flies when you’re not staring at the clock! ;)

3 Tara Burner February 2, 2012 at 6:59 am

love planks…
i used to be able to do it for 7+ mins
then injury, hadnt worked out or done anything in months
now i’m sadly down to barely 3 mins :(

4 tinareale February 2, 2012 at 10:37 am

3 mins is still mighty impressive to me!

5 David Campbell February 16, 2013 at 1:50 pm

I find that the plank is one of the most boring abdominal exercises, but it is in my opinion the best mid-section exercises around. The longest time I have ever done the plank without moving my bottom is 14 minutes as opposed to 11 minutes now.

6 chelsey @ clean eating chelsey February 2, 2012 at 7:11 am

Pinned!!! I love planks but I barely ever do them. It’s a sad story. I should start making myself do a few minutes every day!

7 Maryea @ Happy Healthy Mama February 2, 2012 at 7:21 am

I love planks! I don’t know what’s the longest I’ve held one, but I know I need to start doing them to get my pre pregnancy belly back. Great post!

8 jana @ newly wife healthy life February 2, 2012 at 7:52 am

Wow that could lead to a seriously intense work out! What a great way to mix up a simple plank. It is a great workout, but let’s be honest, you can only hold a standard plank for so long or only want to do so many before you get bored. This gives variety, which I love!

9 Jordan Lynn (Ciao Cow) February 2, 2012 at 7:52 am

These are great variations! I am always looking for ab movements that will actually make my abs sore – hopefully some of these will fit the bill. :)

10 Heather (Heather's Dish) February 2, 2012 at 8:00 am

i love planks (although i’m sure i won’t be saying that once i start doing them again post-baby)!

11 Lindsey @ Cardio Pizza February 2, 2012 at 8:21 am

Great ideas!

I also love plank exercises and incorporate them into my workouts many times during the week, as well as in the classes I teach. I definitely think a strong core is essential!

I love the traditional elbow plank hold as well as the straight arm plank with leg lifts.

12 Lauren @ What Lauren Likes February 2, 2012 at 8:22 am

I like planks now, I used to hate them! Great post, I will definetly be trying some of these :)

13 Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table February 2, 2012 at 8:30 am

I totally agree that planks the the best thing you can do for a flat belly. My favorite lately are plank jacks and the plank with a dumbbell row. Great post!!!

14 Jess February 2, 2012 at 8:39 am

I’m love-to-hate-to love plank girl myself. They are SO SO SO effective but damn are they hard to do well. But then, that’s the point, right? The thing about planks that keeps me motivated is that you can always improve – your form, your endurance, your strength. And there is nothing better than the first time you realize you’re strong enough to stay in a certain plank pose for longer than you did previously (or beating your husband in a plank war is also fun too, hehe)

15 tinareale February 2, 2012 at 10:38 am

hahaha! Love the beating the husband comment.

16 Sarah K. @ The Pajama Chef February 2, 2012 at 8:59 am

great variations!

17 Lindsay @ In Sweetness and In Health February 2, 2012 at 9:01 am

LOVE this post! I’m totally going to incorporate more variations into my workout :) .

18 Cara February 2, 2012 at 9:05 am

I love planks! They are my favorite core exercise. I like the side plank with dips, but the traditional plank does soooo much for your whole core too! I loved reading all the variations!

19 Lilly February 2, 2012 at 9:07 am

Love this post! I love planks, make you feel so strong! I will def be adding these variations into my workouts.

Another really great variation I have been doing lately is to do a plank on your elbows on a ball, even harder if you have a partner to (lightly) kick the ball while you are doing the plank b/c then you have to stabilize the ball movement with your core! I also do “swiss killahs” – or start with fists low on the ball, and roll out to your elbows, while doing a plank.. You can start by doing the plank on your knees and build up to doing in on your feet, this is a hard move!

20 tinareale February 2, 2012 at 10:39 am

That does sound tough! Thanks for sharing. :)

21 Katie @ Pop Culture Cuisine February 2, 2012 at 9:07 am

I have a love/hate relationship with planks…I love them because I know they are super effective, but I hate them because let’s be honest, they sort of suck :) I have about every Jillian Michaels dvd under the sun, so over the course of a week of using all her different workouts I have certainly planked my little heart out!

22 Ashleysh22 February 2, 2012 at 9:19 am

WOW! this is really great! Thanks for so much detail. I am excited to try some of these with my Insanity workouts!

23 Kelly @ Laughter, Strength, and Food February 2, 2012 at 9:28 am

I love planks! People in my classes always grumble when I make them do them, but I just tell that they are good for you and that they’ll thank me later! :-)

24 Ashley @ My Food 'N' Fitness Diaries February 2, 2012 at 9:31 am

i have such a bittersweet love for planks! haha. i know and completely agree that planks are one of the BEST core exercises, and that’s why i love them, but i also hate how hard they can be sometimes.

25 Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic February 2, 2012 at 9:32 am

Thanks for this Tina. I’m trying to incorporate more plyometrics and strength-building exercises into my routine, and I really should do more planks. Didn’t know there were so many variations!

26 natalie @ southern fit foodie February 2, 2012 at 10:06 am

I LOVE PLANKS!!! Plank with hip dips, up/down plank with pulses (insanity style), and side plank dips are my favorites!!!

27 Emilia February 2, 2012 at 10:09 am

I used to not like planks so much, but as I’ve started to incorporate them more and more into my workouts, I find my attitude towards them changing. They may be hard, but I can feel results! I’ll definitely be trying to incorporate some of these variations into my core exercises :)

28 Callie @ The Wannabe Athlete February 2, 2012 at 10:16 am

We were just talking about how valuable planks are in my boot camp class this morning! The longest I’ve held a plank is 90 seconds – but I’m working on it1

29 Corey @ Learning Patience February 2, 2012 at 10:22 am

Great post Tina. I LOVE planks too! I agree with you – they are super amazing for your abs… I am up to a 2.30 min plank! That has taken months though to get me there!

xoxo from Trinidad

30 Cheryl @ eatplayluvblog February 2, 2012 at 10:45 am

LOVE planks.

My fitness class staples are pushups, burpees, and planks :)

I love up/down planks like in your first set! Check out your triceps in that vid PS :)

31 Cat @Breakfast to Bed February 2, 2012 at 11:02 am

I’ve been pronouncing your last name wrong. Now I feel silly.

32 Lauren @ Oatmeal after Spinning February 2, 2012 at 11:02 am

I have never actually tried to see how long I can hold a plank, but should! I always do straight arm planks in yoga, and elbow in Bodypump (and side planks and variations for both).
I have to say- I LOVE side planks- probably because I can hold them for longer.
I don’t know if I ever shared this with you, but my trainer has a really cook 10-min plank challenge on YouTube. He’s made me do it several times and it’s a killer!!
I can’t link to the direct YouTube address because it’s blocked at my work, but there’s a link to it in this post: http://oatmealafterspinning.com/2011/10/12/planks-tea-and-other-randoms/

33 Marni G February 2, 2012 at 11:11 am

Love planks! I’m excited to add some of the variations you’ve shared to my workouts. Those side planks with hip dips get me for sure…hurts so good!

34 Lindsay @ FuelMyFamily February 2, 2012 at 11:18 am

Planks are by far my favorite abdominal exercise as well! My abdominal diastasis was worse with my second child and planks are a great way to help that!

35 Leah @ Why Deprive? February 2, 2012 at 12:13 pm

I love planks. I try to do them as often as possible because I know how great they are, and because I can just bust one out pretty much anywhere.
The longest I’ve held one is probably about a minute. I just don’t have the attention span for more than that.

36 lindsay February 2, 2012 at 12:24 pm

love them all! my abs might not love you tomorrow but its for their own good, right?

37 Heather @ Better With Veggies February 2, 2012 at 12:30 pm

My core is STILL sore from the Body Saw plank variation I did on Monday night for Tuesday Trainer – it’s crazy how effective & how many ways you can tweak a plank . I think I’ve probably only done 1 minute sets of plank, I’m always so impressed when I hear how long other people work up to!

38 Carol @ Lucky Zucca February 2, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Planks!! They are so hard but I know I need to do them. Thanks for all the variations!

39 Cherie H February 2, 2012 at 1:38 pm

You know – It is so nice to see these 3 videos with SO many variety in terms of how to do planks. I hate planks, but I love them SO much at the same time. I always try to do Planks of some sort when I’m home with the family during commercial breaks if we are watching television – but after watchign these videos, I now have more variations which is fantastic!

40 tinareale February 2, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Great! Glad to help. And doing them during commercial breaks is a great idea. I love sneaking them in when playing on the floor with the kiddos. :)

41 Annette@EnjoyYourHealthyLife February 2, 2012 at 2:10 pm

I love planks! SO true–they are great for stability!!

You have such great posts :)

42 Jen Rahn February 2, 2012 at 2:32 pm

I love this, Tina. Thank you. I did a set of each exercise above, for 45 seconds to a 1 minute per exercise, after my spinning class this morning. It rocked my core. I think this’ll be an integral part of my routine now.
I was able to go into a quiet studio, with my Garmin timer, and do the exercises alongside a mirror. This helped me with my form, and in focusing on engaging my transverse abs. Crunches/sit-ups/etc. can’t compare to planks — I agree.

43 Katie @ Peace Love & Oats February 2, 2012 at 2:40 pm

I love doing planks! My favorite is a side plank and then you dip your hip down and pull it back up. I’ll have to check out some of these moves, there are so many!

44 dana February 2, 2012 at 4:22 pm

I working my abs, but I try to do a few planks a week (until failure). It’s the one muscle group, I loathe working.

45 Nicola February 2, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Plank is so hard. I find it really difficult when you’re not moving to hold it? I like to be moving during my ab exercises. But I do know how beneficial planks are and I try to do them as much as I can

46 Mattie @ Comfy and Confident February 3, 2012 at 9:35 am

All the variations are brilliant. Thanks for taking the time to explain them and show us! I agree the plank is the best ab workout for all around strength and fitness.

47 Dena @ 40 Fit in the Mitt February 3, 2012 at 1:08 pm

I had no idea there were so many ways to do a plank, thank you Tina.

48 Pure2raw twins February 3, 2012 at 10:56 pm

love this Tina!! thank you! we have been doing planks everyday for the past two weeks. we will try out some of these variations!

49 Annie February 4, 2012 at 8:13 am

I had no idea planks were the best for your abs?!! Really? I’m not trying to be annoying or doubtful, I’m just surprised!

50 tinareale February 4, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Not annoying or doubtful sounding at all. I view the plank as the best because its a move that can work the entire abdominal region, as well as other parts of the body. Plus, it’s a functional exercise that will benefit everyday strength. :)

51 Melissa @ Live, Love, & Run February 5, 2012 at 12:15 am

Tina, you posted this at just the right time for me. With my foot still recovering from the bite, I’m not running right now. I’m really bummed, because it’s the one thing that’s really helped me in the abdominal area…and not running centers my focus on how not-so-strong my abs are. I’ve got this bookmarked…and I’ll be incorporating more planks on a daily basis, for sure. They’re my favorite. ;)

52 marijka February 6, 2012 at 8:31 pm

Would you please consider making a one-page poster of these? Just 1-2 photos of each to jog our memory, something to tape on the wall. Regardless, thanks for every bit of this page! :-)

53 shari February 6, 2012 at 9:16 pm

Thank you for sharing these exercises! I am looking for something to strengthen and tone and I think these will be perfect for me! Abs are my focus and the variations are great! Thank you!

54 Lindsay February 16, 2012 at 5:11 pm

How long should I do each plank variation for?

55 tinareale February 16, 2012 at 8:08 pm

I always suggest holding a plank as long as possible with good form and gradually building up the time. For moves like the hip dips or rocks, I would say start with 10 reps and build up to 15 or 20. Always focus on quality form first, though. :)

56 Shae Ron Follohill February 20, 2012 at 5:17 pm

i can’t wait to try these when I get home. I have to be queit and quick when exercising. At least till the weather is better so that I can walk again! thanks for this. i hope i can remember how to do it all when I get home.

57 tinareale February 20, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Hope you enjoy them!

58 cassiezwart February 25, 2012 at 4:24 am

Thanks for this post, Tina! I’m wondering: How many times per week should I do planks? Any suggestions for frequency?

59 tinareale February 25, 2012 at 6:06 am

No problem!

I try to actually do the standard plank once a day since it’s such a great functional exercise. Doesn’t always happen though. ;)

Any moves that go beyond the standard plank and use other body parts (like the ones with hip dips/raises, up/down plank, etc) I incorporate into my strength workouts, so no more than 2-3 times per week. Hope this helps!

60 Berta Jennings March 6, 2012 at 8:40 pm

Thanks so much for these exercises—we did some tonight and my tummy is feeling it!!! Thanks again–awesome!!

61 tinareale March 6, 2012 at 8:45 pm

Glad you enjoyed them!

62 Luz Cabrera March 11, 2012 at 6:19 pm

Was in a fit test yesterday and I was able to hold a plank for 8:28 but my competitor (a guy) lol who didnt want me to win, made it to 9 mins. Today, my body is aching but Im very proud of myself :-)

63 Carrie April 11, 2012 at 4:46 am

I agree with you, Tina; nothing shapes up your core and makes it stronger than planks. I never did them prior to working out with a trainer, thinking that lots of sit-ups was the key, but never getting great results. Yes, they’re challenging, but they’ve made all the difference in the world. Planks have turned my core into a sort of natural girdle. Buh-bye, Spanx!

64 Melanie April 28, 2012 at 2:50 pm

great sight, straight and to the point with short clips is perfect and simple enough to watch quickly so you can get on with it… thank you! best site I’ve found on these sort of abd exercises (i’m looking only for plank exercises bc they’re the best for post baby bellies :)

65 Lisa Marie May 2, 2012 at 1:09 pm

I am new to this …..when doing the beginning planks are you to lift? and how long or how many? Thanks for your time.

66 Nick Outlaw May 17, 2012 at 9:30 pm

Nice!! A must for stability, strength, and performance. Thanks!

67 Alysia @ Slim Sanity May 23, 2012 at 5:56 pm

planks are THE BEST. i do my plank a day or more!

68 Lily Fluffbottom May 25, 2012 at 1:18 pm

I’m still trying to figure out how to do side planks… I think I just can’t support my body weight yet. but I love them when I do them. The longest I’ve held one is for 1m 45s.

69 Shana May 25, 2012 at 5:41 pm

Thanks for sharing this! I found you on Pinterest, and I ♥♥♥♥!!!! Looking forward to killing my abs this weekend. :)

70 Noreen May 28, 2012 at 11:50 am

Nice article – I’ve repinned and will link in my own blog for you :)
Variations –
Straight Arm Plank with hands on stability ball – into mountain climbers.
Straight Arm Plank into full length Push Up, with 30 secs hold at top position and 30 secs at bottom position;
Renegade Row Plank (Dumbbell or Kettlebell 1 Arm Row) into Death Crawl (after each row, move the KB / DB ahead on one side, then the other and repeat row)
Add a push up to the Death Crawl for a challenge !
Enjoy – Noreen

71 Carol Dunlop May 28, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Thanks for the great moves. I love planks and put them into my own and my clients’ workouts. I just followed you on YouTube, thanks for putting out great content.

72 Dan June 2, 2012 at 8:41 pm

Hey

Any idea “how much” of these I should do? I mean, I get I can mix ‘n match, but should I shoot for say, 30 minutes combined? About 3 times a week I do a ‘core’ workout, where I do lunges and squats and ab work. Should i just do as much of this as I can handle?

thanks, these are awesome.

dan

73 tinareale June 3, 2012 at 7:15 am

Hi Dan! Thanks for visiting. I personally suggest adding about 3-5 minutes worth of planks into a regular workout a few times per week.

74 Dan June 3, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Cool. thanks. Just got back from gym. These def take my boring plankifying to a new level.

75 Isabel September 26, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Thanks for sharing this! I have a hate and love relationship to the planks but they are really showing results! :)

76 Daliance October 20, 2012 at 8:57 pm

This is ridiculous question seeing as how everyone seems to be professional plankers, but how long are you supposed to hold the position?
Do you begin at a time and add minutes or is there a set time?
Thank you!

77 tinareale October 22, 2012 at 7:28 am

It really depends on your personal level of fitness. You may start off with just 15-30 seconds and then slowly and gradually build over time. I would suggest starting and seeing how long you can hold the position comfortably with good form and then aim to add 5-10 seconds to that time every few days to week or so.

78 Tammy Fuller December 12, 2012 at 12:01 am

I never knew how many variations there were. I’m going to have to work some of these into my workout plan!

79 sydney January 16, 2013 at 4:37 pm

Great videos. Thank you for sharing! I will share them on my website too, if you don’t mind!

80 Susan February 2, 2013 at 7:39 pm

Great exercises and videos. Thank you for sharing these, Tina. You are an inspiration to get myself going again…and boy do I need some motivation! This is just what I needed, someone to SHOW me the exercises and how to do them properly. Many thanks.

81 Jessica February 8, 2013 at 11:58 am

Thanks for sharing this post! Great ideas. Planks are so tough for me but I try to get my kiddos involved and this is one thing that they find fun as we do them together. I also write for a group called The Journey http://www.smallchangesbigpicture.wordpress.com and we share some of our favorite links every weekend. I am sharing your link to this post tomorrow! Thanks so much!!!

82 Bronwyn February 21, 2013 at 12:59 pm

I feel pathetic. I can only do the plank for 12 seconds.

83 tinareale February 21, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Please don’t feel pathetic. It is a challenging move. Start with modifications (on your knees/elbows) and do what you can. Do them a few times a week minimum trying to go a little longer each time. Over time you will be amazed at how you can improve. We all start somewhere!

84 Edmund April 26, 2013 at 4:06 am

Hi Tina,

So you are saying that I have to do all 3 forms of planks that you have shown in the 3 videos in order to get a strong base? How long would you recommend that I do for each plank exercise and how many reps?

Edmund

85 Ammenity April 26, 2013 at 11:52 am

Um, I can barely do a 30 sec plank and some of y’all are doing planks as low as 3 minutes up to 14 minutes? All I can say is WOW!!!

86 Health and Fitness May 7, 2013 at 1:37 am

Great plank.I used to be able to do it for 10+ Mins .In starting its quite difficult to do.

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88 Kiki May 25, 2013 at 12:24 pm

I can do the plank for 3:20 is that good

89 Kimberly Perla September 24, 2013 at 8:40 pm

Hi, I’m Kim,19 years old. So, here’s the thing, I run 3 times week. That’s my form of exercise BUT could you also give me a frequency in PLANKS. I mean, like do this 3 times a week.. What do you think? Is it necessary or it depends on me? Please.. I need a sort of suggestion. I’m a teenager yet I have a belly :( I feel so disgusting about myself :/

90 Craig November 20, 2013 at 9:19 pm

I recently started dong planks that are in a program by jim stoppani. They are killer. He also recommends this new thing before you workout http://www.prejym.com

Do you know if this is safe to take?

91 Tim C G February 16, 2014 at 4:49 pm

I see a personal trainer twice a week. I could only do a plank for 30-60 seconds, so we set a 5 minute goal. After practicing daily, it only took me 3 weeks to build up to 5 minutes. If you spend the time daily, endurance will come pretty quick. Do a couple sets in AM and a couple in the PM. And change it up, planks can be exciting and rewarding.

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