Forget crunches — you just need this 4-move workout to build a stronger core and sculpt your abs

a photo of a woman with defined abs
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Standard planks are great for building strength in your core but let's be honest, they can also be pretty boring — remaining in the same painful position for as long as you can hold it. How about if we told you, you can freshen things up and fire up your abs while trying some variations of the plank in the form of a four move workout?

We have a list of the best plank variations on the site, but it would be pretty damn demanding to complete all 19 exercises in one session. This is why we love this four move routine that online trainer Cindy Yu has put together. Creating the ultimate core burning session, Yu has combined, plank leg crossovers, plank reaches, plank knee tap tricep presses and plank pikes into one workout.

Can a workout made up of plank variations have much effect on your ab building efforts? Well, according to a research paper published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, integration exercises, which are exercises that recruit other muscles like your glute, back, and shoulder muscles, elicit greater muscle activation than isolation exercises, such as crunches. 

So we think this ain't a bad workout to train your abs and core with. Here's how to do it.

What is the workout?

You will complete four exercises, spending 30-40 seconds on each and then repeat four to five times. As with your standard plank, remember to hold your core tight as you perform each move in order to activate the muscles in there and get the most out of the workout. 

Check out Yu perform each move below and then be sure to read our instructions so that you can try this routine yourself.

Plank Leg Crossover

Begin in a plank position with your elbows below your shoulders and your hands and forearms lying ahead. Engage your core and maintain a straight line from head to heels. Lift one leg slightly off the ground and cross it over the other leg. Return to the starting position and alternate legs. Keep your hips level and avoid sagging or lifting. Perform for 30-40 secs for 4-5 rounds, maintaining a strong and stable plank position throughout.

Plank Reach

Start in a plank position. Extend one arm forward, reaching it out in front of you. Return the hand to the plank position and alternate arms. Keep your core tight to prevent excessive rotation. Perform for 30-40 secs for 4-5 rounds, maintaining a stable plank and avoiding any twisting in your torso.

Plank Knee Tap Tricep Press

Begin in a plank position. Perform a knee tap, lowering both knees to touch the floor. As you return to the plank position, lift off your elbows and extend your arms up using your hands as a base on the floor. Lower yourself back down to a standard plank and go again. Perform for 30-40 secs for 4-5 rounds, ensuring controlled movements without compromising your form.

Plank Pike

Get into a plank position. Lift your hips towards the ceiling, forming an inverted V-shape. Lower your hips back to the plank position. Keep your core engaged, and maintain a straight line from head to heels. Perform for 30-40 secs for 4-5 rounds, focusing on controlled movement and maintaining a strong core.

What are the benefits of this workout?

Engaging in this plank-based workout that incorporates variations such as leg crossovers, knee taps with tricep presses, and pikes offers a myriad of benefits for building core strength and defining abdominal muscles. These exercises specifically target the deep core muscles, including the rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis. The plank leg crossovers, for example, engage the entire core while focusing on the obliques as the legs move laterally, providing a comprehensive workout for the midsection.

Consistently incorporating these plank variations into your routine can help lead to improved posture, reduced lower back pain, and enhanced overall functional strength. Plus, aesthetically, a well-trained core contributes to a toned and defined midsection. It's important to acknowledge that while exercise plays a vital role in building abdominal muscles, a balanced and nutritious diet is equally important for revealing those sculpted abs.

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Jessica Downey
Fitness Writer

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her love for keeping fit and fueling her body with healthy and enjoyable food quite naturally led her to write about all things fitness and health-related. If she isn’t out testing the latest fitness products such as the latest running shoe or yoga mat for reviewing then she can be found writing news and features on the best ways to build strength, active aging, female health, and anything in between. Before then she had a small stint writing in local news, has also written for Runners World UK (print and digital), and gained experience with global content marketing agency, Cedar Communications.

Born and raised in Scotland, Jessica is a massive fan of exercising and keeping active outdoors. When at home she can be found running by the sea, swimming in it, or up a mountain. This continued as she studied and trained to become a PPA-accredited magazine journalist in Wales. And since working and living in London, she splits her time between weight training in the gym, trying new fitness classes, and finding scenic running routes. Jessica enjoys documenting this on her fitness-inspired Instagram page @jessrunshere where she loves engaging with like-minded fitness junkies.

She is a big fan of healthy cooking and loves learning more about this area with expert nutritionists she has met over the years. Jessica is a big advocate for building healthy relationships with food rather than building restrictive attitudes towards it. When she isn’t eating or running she also enjoys practicing yoga in her free time as it helps her to unwind and benefits her performance in other sports.