How to do an up-down plank: form, benefits, and modifications

How to do up down plank
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When it comes to working out from home, it’s good to focus on exercises that get you more bang for your buck. We’re talking bodyweight exercises that target more than one area of the body while raising your heart rate. One exercise that does just this is the up and down plank, otherwise known as a moving plank or commando plank. 

An up and down plank targets various muscle groups as you move from a high plank to forearm plank. You'll target your triceps and shoulders as well as the abs and lower back. Bracing in the plank move also forces you to engage the quads and glutes, and all you need is an exercise mat and your body weight.

It's one of the best ab exercises, and you don’t need to hold a plank for all that long to see results and work your arms and core hard. Read on to find out how to do moving planks with the correct form, and the modifications to try. You can also find out what happened when I added a plank to my morning routine here.

How to do up and down planks 

  • Get into the plank position on an exercise mat (if you don’t have one, we’ve found the best yoga mats that double as exercise mats here)
  • Keep your palms flat on the floor, with your arms straight and hands beneath your shoulders
  • Brace your core as you drop your left elbow down to the ground, followed by your right. You should still be in a plank position, with your weight on your elbows
  • Pause here, then press your left palm into the floor, and rise back up to a high plank position.

During this exercise, it’s important to keep the movement slow and controlled. As tempting as it is to power through the repetitions to get them done, you’ll work harder if you move slower. It’s also important to keep your core engaged during the movement and to avoid swinging your pelvis from side to side as you move. 

What are the benefits of up-down planks? 

As up and down planks target different muscle groups in the body, they are likely to get your heart rate up more than, say, a traditional plank. This means the exercise is likely to burn more calories than other ab exercises. 

As a full-body, bodyweight exercise, up and down planks work your arms and core. A stronger core has a number of benefits that aren’t just aesthetic, including lifting heavier, running faster, and having a better posture. Working your arms helps sculpt more visible muscles, but also reduces your risk of injury in the gym, improves your posture, and helps you run faster. 

The best up-down plank modifications to try 

If up and down planks are too difficult right now, start by building your strength in a regular high plank. Once you have mastered that move, try to hold a plank for a minute, but after 30 seconds move from a high plank to an elbow plank — this will get you used to the movement. Of course, you can also start with less reps — aim for two up and down planks on each arm, and build up from there. 

If ten up and down planks is now easy, add more repetitions to your workout to really blast your arms and core. If you’re looking for harder plank modifications, you might also want to add weights to the movement. 

Instead of moving down into an elbow plank, add a row to the movement — to do this, get into an elbow plank position, with a dumbbell in each hand, or if this is too much on your wrists, place a dumbbell by each hand. Starting with your left hand, reach for the dumbbell and perform a row, bending at the elbow. Drop the dumbbell back to the starting position, and repeat on the opposite side. You can then finish with a push-up to really up the ante. Beginners, aim to complete five reps. 

Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy. 

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