Try These 6 Plank Exercises for a Stronger Core

Wondering, "are planks good for abs?" Try these variations and find out.

person in workout clothes smiling
Photo: Peter Ardito

If you've been searching for the best exercises to strengthen your core muscles, you're not alone. After years of doing a bazillion crunches during every workout, I've finally learned that determination only gets you so far when the approach is wrong. Even an entire hour of crunches won't match the benefits of a 10-minute plank workout.

Wondering "are planks good for abs, or should I do other moves instead?" Well, the plank exercise is actually a full-core strengthener — so def don't skip it. It works all the muscles in your core, including the rectus abdominis (the "six-pack muscles" you can see), transverse abdominis (your deepest abs muscles), internal and external obliques (your sides), hips, and back (which, yes, are part of your core too!).

Why not just focus on the six-pack muscles? Core strength is about more than looks, for one. Strengthening your entire core is crucial for providing support for your entire body during everyday movements, and can help reduce back pain and improve posture. Plus, plank exercises recruit muscles in the legs, arms, and glutes too, making it the ultimate total-body exercise. Switching up the type of plank exercise you're doing can help target a bunch of different muscles and keep challenging you (without forcing you to hold a static plank position for minutes at a time).

How it works: Start with the first four plank exercises, holding each one for 30 seconds (if possible, work up to one-minute holds). Repeat the entire series three times total. When you feel comfortable with the first four plank positions, advance to incorporate the final two exercises, holding each one for 30–60 seconds. For a killer core workout, combine all six plank exercises into one routine.

01 of 06

Forearm Plank

instructor demonstrating forearm plank exercise
Peter Ardito

A. Start in a high plank (aka push-up) position.

B. Bend elbows and rest weight on forearms instead of hands. Body should form a straight line from shoulders to ankles.

C. Brace core as if about to be punched in the stomach. (Don't forget to breathe throughout this plank exercise.)

Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

02 of 06

Plank with Leg Lift

instructor demonstrating low plank leg lift exercise
Peter Ardito

A. Start in a forearm plank position with abs braced.

B. Engage glutes to lift and hold one foot a few inches off the floor, foot flexed. Return foot to the ground to complete the rep.

Do 10 lifts with one leg. Switch sides; repeat.

03 of 06

Side Plank

instructor demonstrating side plank exercise
Peter Ardito

A. Lie on left side with knees straight. Prop body up on left elbow and forearm, feet stacked.

B. Raise hips until body forms a straight line from ankles to shoulders.

C. Brace abs and breathe deeply for the duration of the plank exercise.

Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Switch sides; repeat.

04 of 06

Side Plank with Leg Lift

instructor demonstrating side plank with leg lift exercise
Peter Ardito

A. Start in side plank position with left elbow below shoulder, feet stacked.

B. Keep core braced and lift right (top) leg as high as possible while maintaining proper form. Flex foot and point toes slightly down.

C. Lower leg. That's one rep.

Do 10 reps. Switch sides; repeat.

05 of 06

Straight-Arm Plank

instructor demonstrating straight-arm plank exercise
Peter Ardito

A. Start in high plank position with hands on the floor beneath shoulders, arms straight.

B. Set feet close together and straighten legs, keeping weight on toes. Body should form a straight line from ankles to head.

C. Brace abs and squeeze glutes to help keep body rigid.

Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

06 of 06

Straight-Arm Plank with Shoulder Touch

instructor demonstrating straight-arm plank with shoulder taps exercise
Peter Ardito

A. Start in a high plank position with hands on the floor beneath shoulders, arms straight.

B. Set feet close together and straighten legs, keeping weight on toes.

C. Drop shoulder blades down and back and keep a straight line from head to ankles.

D. Keeping hips still (they'll want to move!), lift right hand and tap left shoulder. Slowly replace right hand and repeat with left hand.

Continue alternating for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

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