The plank is still a no-fail core-strengthening move, but if you want it to work harder for you, you must get creative.
For example, when New York City-based Equinox trainer and instructor Alicia Archer, who has a BFA in dance from Fordham University and The Ailey School, realized that she could use specific plank variations as a way to better prepare her clients to transition into handstands, she knew she’d struck gold.
“Planks have been around forever. It’s really how you tackle them that will make a difference,” says Archer. “A lot of the strength conditioning and proper technique required to perform handstands can be accessed by plank work, allowing you to build from the ground up.”
These moves in particular will help you develop scapular protraction, engage your core (creating a stronger 'wrap' around your midsection), open up your hips, activate your glutes and improve your flexibility—all while testing your mobility, balance and stability.
Perform up to 3 sets of this workout (with a 30-second rest between each), focusing on your form, alignment and breath, rather than quantity or speed.
Start in plank position (palms under shoulders, legs extended behind you, back flat, abs engaged). Lift right leg until it’s parallel to the floor, and then bend knee. Keeping toes pointed toward the ceiling, engage glutes and lift leg up a few inches; lower. Pulse up and down for 8 to 10 reps; switch legs and repeat.
Start in plank position (with legs extended or knees down on floor). Extend left leg diagonally toward ceiling, and then bend elbows by sides, lowering chest to floor. Push back up and press back, lifting hips into a 3-Legged Dog (body in an inverted V position). Do 8 to 10 reps; switch sides and repeat.
Start in Upward Dog with feet together, quads hovering above the floor, and chest up. Move into a high plank with a rounded back. Slowly return to start. Do 8 to 10 reps.
Start in plank position. Rotate torso to left as you bring right knee in toward left elbow. Repeat, rotating torso to right as you bring left knee in toward right elbow. Do 8 to 10 reps.
Stand with feet and legs together. Hinge forward from hips and place palms on floor, a few inches in front of your shoulders. Press into palms, bend knees, and then hop both feet up, bringing knees in toward chest, lifting feet toward ceiling, keeping upper body in a straight line. Squeeze knees closer in to chest. Gently lower back to start. Do 8 to 10 reps.
Start in plank position. Bring right knee up beside right wrist. Keeping toes pointed, abs engaged and back flat, “slide” knee all the way up side of your arm, until you reach shoulder level. Slide back down and repeat. Do 8 to 10 reps; switch sides and repeat.