Planks rank high on the list of all-time effective core exercises. They're common in all types of strength workouts since they're simple, yet effective-they require virtually every muscle group in your body to fire up without any equipment.
Best of all, there are multiple plank variations you can incorporate into your workouts that also offer heart-pumping, muscle-building benefits that translate to faster, more efficient miles.
'Planks are an important exercise for all athletes but especially useful for runners because they help train your core musculature to support your spine, which is crucial for stability and efficient force production and transfer,' says Yusuf Jeffers, a NASM-certified personal trainer and USATF-certified running coach. 'Increases in stability and force usually translate to moving faster, all while reducing the stressor on your joints that a less-engaged core causes.'
That's why Jeffers created a circuit of plank variations for you to try. Starting with the basic forearm plank, it's important to pay attention to the quality of the movement and your alignment in order to engage and train the correct muscles, Jeffers says. Avoid excessive arching of your back and head as well. As you build core strength and perfect the standard forearm plank, up the challenge with a couple of Jeffers's favourite plank variations.
How to do it: Perform each exercise for 30 to 60 seconds. Perform 2 to 3 rounds of this 5-move circuit. Rest as needed in between each round. You can perform this circuit after an easy run or add it to a strength session at home or at the gym. Alternatively, you can add any one of these plank variations into your regular core workouts to switch things up. Each move is demonstrated by Jeffers in the video above so you can learn proper form.
Start facedown on mat, tuck your toes, then prop yourself up on forearms with elbows under shoulders. Lift hips off the mat, keeping your back straight and abs tight. Engage glutes and legs to prevent hips from lifting or dipping so body forms a straight line from heels to head. Widen your stance for more stability.
Forearm Plank With Alternating Leg Raise
Start in a forearm blank as instructed above. From there, engage glutes and hamstrings to lift left leg up as high as you can, then return to starting position. Lift right leg up as high as you can, then return to starting position. Continue alternating.
Spiderman Forearm Plank
Start in a forearm blank as instructed above. From there, drive your right knee out toward your right tricep, then quickly step it back to plank position. Immediately drive the left knee out toward left tricep, then quickly step it back into plank position. You'll feel this in your side body. Continue alternating.
Forearm Side Plank With Leg Raise to Knee Tuck (Both Sides)
Start on your side with your right forearm on the ground, forming a straight line from your head to your feet, feet stacked on top of each other, then lift hips as high as you can. Raise your left leg as high as you can, then lower back down halfway, then bend your knee in toward your chest. Extend your leg back out and continue repeating the sequence. When finished, switch sides so that you're on your left forearm and raising your right leg.
Walking Plank to Mountain Climber
Start in a forearm blank as instructed above. Replace right elbow with right hand, then left elbow with left hand until you're up in a high plank position. Perform four mountain climbers by drawing one knee into chest at a time, then drop back into a forearm plank position. Continue to repeat, alternating lead hand each time.