Planks are great for your core, which you probably already know. But something that people don’t shout from the rooftops enough? Planks are also great for working your upper body—specifically your shoulders—and your legs, hamstrings, and butt, if you’re doing them right. And this is especially true if you add some movement to them, like jumping your legs out and in (plank jacks) or walking your arms from a forearm plank to a high plank and back again (plank up-downs). In fact, you can get a total-body workout by just doing plank variations and nothing else.
The workout below includes five different types of planks that work your body in slightly different ways. Together, they’ll hit most of the major muscle groups in your body. Some of them will even get your heart rate up, giving you a nice bonus cardio workout while you’re at it.
Before you jump in, let’s quickly talk plank form. To get into plank position, place your hands directly underneath your shoulders and extend your legs out behind you. Leave a little space between your feet—for the planks that involve movement, try separating your feet a little further apart to help add some stability so you can avoid rocking your hips. When you’re in a plank, squeeze your butt cheeks and quads and tuck your tailbone under just a bit. This will help you keep your abs engaged and avoid arching your lower back. If you feel any strain in your lower back, lift your hips up just a tad, and squeeze your butt and abs tighter to make sure they are staying engaged. Also, do an upper-body check. Your shoulders should be relaxed, not pulled back so that your shoulder blades touch nor rounded forward. Think about engaging your back muscles to keep your upper back strong and flat. (These visuals might help you with form, too!)
For a forearm plank, you’ll follow all the same cues, except your elbows will be directly beneath your shoulders and your forearms will be flat on the floor.
OK, now that you’ve got a perfect plank, try the workout below. It’s great for days when you only have five minutes to sweat, or after a run or other cardio-focused workout.
Do each exercise for 30 seconds before transitioning into the next. Try to minimize rest, but listen to your body and take short breaks in between moves if you feel your form is starting to suffer. Then, repeat the whole circuit again, for a total of 5 minutes of planking goodness.
- Plank Up-Down — 30 seconds
- Plank to Downward Dog Tap — 30 seconds
- Plank Jack — 30 seconds
- Forearm Plank Rock — 30 seconds
- Forearm Side Plank Twist — 30 seconds
- Do 2 times.
Here’s how to do each move:
Demoing the move below are Crystal Williams, a group fitness instructor and trainer who teaches at residential and commercial gyms across New York City; and Cookie Janee, a background investigator and security forces specialist in the Air Force Reserve.