Planks are an underestimated bodyweight exercise that can help you build some serious core strength. The traditional move targets every muscle of the core, from your abs and back to your glutes. The problem is, it can get boring to practice the same move over and over. So once you’ve mastered the traditional plank hold, you can mix things up by practicing a few plank variations like the ones listed below.
As a cyclist, building a solid core can help you ride faster, stronger, and more efficiently. Here’s exactly how you can benefit from practicing plank variations and why you might want to add them to your next core workout.
The Benefits of Plank Variations for Cyclists
“If your abdominal muscles and spinal erectors are lacking either the strength or endurance to maintain proper positioning while pedaling on a flatter surface, the slight but constant forward-leaning seated position can place stress on your lumbar spine,” says Greg Pignataro, C.S.C.S., a personal trainer and founder of Never Past Your Prime. That means, if you have a weak core, you’re more likely to experience back pain.
The core muscles also help keep you from collapsing forward or over-arching the spine when out of the saddle and climbing, Pignataro points out. By practicing plank variations you can keep these muscles strong to avoid aches and pains that can disrupt your ride.
To switch up the classic plank exercise, Pignataro created a series of eight plank variations you can do individually or as one complete workout.
Before you start, just know that some of these moves are considered advanced plank variations, which means, they’re best for people who can easily hold a traditional plank for at least 90 seconds with proper form. That means engaging your core and glutes so your hips stay in line.
How to use this list: Each move is demonstrated by Charlee Atkins, C.S.C.S., certified trainer and founder of Le Sweat, so you can learn the proper form. Practice the exercises in the order listed below. Hold or perform each plank variation for 30 seconds. Rest for 30 seconds before moving on to the next one. When this becomes too easy, that’s your cue to increase your work time by five seconds until you build up to 50 seconds of work with only 10 seconds of rest for each move.
1. Extended Forearm Plank
How to do it: Start in a regular forearm plank position, body forming a straight line from head to heels. Then step feet a few inches back so that elbows are slightly in front of shoulders. Hold here.
Trainer Tip: Moving your base of support from directly underneath you to further out in front of you decreases the load on shoulders, while greatly increasing the challenge for your abdominal muscles. The goal is to keep that full-body engagement, squeezing your abs, glutes, and legs.
2. Anti-Rotation Plank
How to do it: Start in a forearm plank position with elbows directly under shoulders, core engaged, but with feet slightly wider than mat-width apart. Lift left hand and sweep it out and around in a large circle as if you’re washing a large window. Return left elbow to mat and repeat with right arm. Continue alternating.
Trainer tip: Resist the natural urge to twist your hips or let them dip side-to-side.
3. Knee Tap Plank
How to do it: Start in a forearm plank position with elbows directly under shoulders, core engaged, and feet hip-width apart. Bend left knee to tap mat. Return to plank. Then bend right knee to tap mat. Continue alternating.
Trainer tip: For a slightly harder plank variation, try bending both knees at once. You should feel this in the lower portion of your abdominals.
4. Reverse Plank
How to do it: Start sitting with legs extended out straight in front of you. Place hands on the mat behind hips, fingertips facing away from you. Press into palms and heels and engage glutes to lift hips straight up, shoulder blades pinched together. Form a straight line from toes to shoulders. Hold here.
Trainer tip: This will challenge the spinal erectors (or muscles that support the spine), in addition to your abs. To make this plank variation slightly easier, bend your knees at a 90-degree angle. To make it harder, alternate lifting one leg at a time.
5. Side Plank With Leg Lift
How to do it: Start in a side plank position with left elbow directly under left shoulder, right hand on hip, feet, knees, and hips stacked and hips lifted off the mat. Lift right (top) leg and hold. Lower down. Then repeat on the other side.
6. Hip Rotation Plank
How to do it: Start in a forearm plank position with elbows under shoulders, core engaged, and feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. With control, dip right hip to right side until it nearly touches the mat. Return to center. Then dip left hip toward left side. Continue alternating.
Trainer tip: Don’t let your hips pike up or drop low while you’re moving side to side and through center.
7. Plank Up-Down
How to do it: Start in forearm plank position with shoulders over elbows, core engaged, and feet at the width of the mat. Replace right elbow with right hand, then left elbow with left hand until you’re in a high plank position. Reverse to lower back into a forearm plank position. Repeat, alternating the lead hand each time.
Trainer tip: The goal is to keep the hips as steady as possible. To make this move easier, step feet wider and to turn up the stability challenge, step feet closer.
8. Glute Kick Plank
How to do it: Start in forearm plank position with shoulders over elbows, core engaged, and feet hip-width apart. Bend left knee so that left leg forms a 90-degree angle and foot is flexed toward ceiling, knee in line with hip. This is your starting position. Push through left heel like you’re stamping the sole of foot on the ceiling. Then return to starting position. You should feel a strong contraction in glutes on the side of the raised leg. Repeat for 30 seconds. Then switch sides.
Trainer tip: Think about engaging the glute to drive the heel up.
For another core workout, check out this video:
Sara Lindberg, B.S., M.Ed., is a freelance writer focusing on health and fitness. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Exercise Science and a Master's Degree in Counseling. Her work is published in LIVESTRONG, Runner’s World, Bicycling Magazine, Men’s Health, SheKnows, Healthline, Active.com, HealthyWay, Yahoo Health, Bodybuilding.com, and many more.