Dealing with wrist pain or want to build shoulder strength? Try these toned-down and leveled-up plank variations to make the exercise work for you.
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Woman doing plank on blue mat with color shapes overlaid
Credit: Shape

Anyone who's tried to hold a minute-long plank knows those 60 seconds can feel more like an hour. But the temporary discomfort involved makes total sense: Despite the move's simplistic appearance, a high plank engages all of your core muscles but is also a truly full-body move. Not only does the high plank exercise challenge your rectus abdomens, obliques, and transverse abdomens muscles, but it also calls upon your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

But just because planks can be grueling doesn't mean they're only meant to be utilized by fitness pros. In fact, practicing high planks helps you build the core strength necessary to simply stand upright, support your spine during everyday movements (think: bending over to pick something off the floor, such as your dog or a kettlebell), and prevent injury, especially back pain. Translation: Planks can be beneficial for everyone at any fitness level, at any point in their movement journey.

While a high plank is generally seen as the traditional version of the exercise, there are endless ways to change up the movement pattern with plank variations, says Phyllicia Bonanno, SWEAT yoga instructor. Depending on how you're feeling, both mentally and physically, on any given day, you should feel comfortable modifying the plank to meet you where you're at right now.

To be even more clear, opting for a plank variation that's a bit less taxing isn't a sign of weakness, but rather an indication that you know how to listen to your body and how to serve it best. Plus, if you're getting back into a regular fitness schedule or suffer from shoulder or wrist pain, trying a plank variation, rather than the OG exercise, can allow you to score all the benefits of a high plank without leaving you feeling overwhelmed, dissatisfied, or in discomfort.

Ready to give the core-strengthening exercise a shot? Follow the instructions below to master the high plank, and then watch as Bonanno demonstrates how to switch up the exercise with six different plank variations she shared that work for all abilities and fitness goals.

How to Do a High Plank

Shape

A. Start in a table-top position on the floor with hands stacked directly under shoulders, knees bent and stacked directly under hips, and feet hip-width apart.

B. Lift both knees off the floor and straighten legs to come into a high plank position on palms, squeezing glutes together and engaging core. Actively push away from the floor and maintain a straight line from head to heels.

6 Plank Variations

Nailed the form of the traditional high plank? While the foundation move should generally be a staple in your workouts, some days you might need something different — and luckily, there are plenty of plank variations to choose from. Whether the basic high plank feels a bit too tough or you're looking to make it even more challenging, there's a plank modification that will work for you and your body.

Here, you'll find plank variations that scale the move up or down, including plank variations for wrist pain and shoulder pain, plank variations to improve your balance, and plank variations to strengthen your shoulders to help prevent injury. Whichever option you choose, make sure to listen to your body and feel free to try a different exercise if it doesn't sit right with you.

Plank Variation to Level Up: Side Plank 

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A. Lie on right side of body, right hand resting on the floor in line with right shoulder, both legs extended out to left side, and feet stacked. 

B. Engage core, ground through right hand and feet, and lift hips and knees off the floor, simultaneously raising left arm toward the ceiling. Gaze toward left hand and maintain a straight line from head to heels.

Plank Variation to Scale Down: Elevated Plank 

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A. Place both hands shoulder-width apart on a chair or bench. 

B. Step one foot back at a time to come into an elevated plank position, feet hip-width apart and weight resting on toes. Squeeze glutes together, engage core, actively push away from the chair or bench, and maintain a straight line from head to heels.

Plank Variation for Wrist Pain: Forearm Plank

Shape

A. Start in a table-top position on the floor with hands stacked directly under shoulders, knees bent and stacked directly under hips, and feet hip-width apart. Lower one forearm down to the floor at a time, elbows in line with shoulders. Plant palms firmly on the floor or create gentle fists.

B. Lift both knees off the floor and straighten legs to come into a forearm plank position, squeezing glutes together and engaging core. Actively push away from the floor and maintain a straight line from head to heels.

Plank Variation for Shoulder Pain: Wide-Stance Plank

Shape

A. Start in a table-top position on the floor with hands stacked directly under shoulders, knees bent and stacked directly under hips, and feet hip-width apart.

B. Lift both knees off the floor and straighten legs to come into a high plank position on palms, squeezing glutes together and engaging core. Step one foot out to the side of the mat at a time. Actively push away from the floor and maintain a straight line from head to heels.

Plank Variation to Improve Balance: Floating Plank

Shape

A. Start in a table-top position on the floor with hands stacked directly under shoulders, knees bent and stacked directly under hips, and feet hip-width apart.

B. Lift both knees off the floor and straighten legs to come into a high plank position on palms, squeezing glutes together and engaging core. Actively push away from the floor and maintain a straight line from head to heels.

C. Keeping core engaged, lift left leg to hip height, then raise right arm to shoulder height, or until parallel to the floor.

Plank Variation to Strengthen Shoulders: Reverse Plank

Shape

A. Sit with legs stretched out in front of body, feet together and toes pointed toward the ceiling. Place hands on the floor behind butt, fingers facing body, and gaze forward.

B. Engage core, press hips up toward the ceiling, holding legs together, and send toes to the wall in front of body. Continue lifting chest up higher, gaze toward the ceiling. Maintain a straight line from head to heels.

Photography and art: Jenna Brillhart
Model and fitness expert: Phyllicia Bonanno
Hair and makeup: Tee Chavez

Wardrobe: Aerie