19 best plank variations to build core strength and muscle

Best plank variations: Woman in green workout clothes performing a side plank outdoors on grass with her right hand behind her head
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We’ve taken on various plank challenges at Tom’s Guide and we know the best plank variations out there. While some have been pretty enjoyable to test, we’ve been glad to see the back of others. But enough about us, if you’re looking for new ways to build core strength and develop muscle, here are the best plank variations to add to your ab workouts. 

Whether you prefer weight training, cardio, or bodyweight workouts, a plank can fit into any exercise regime. Although it’s a core strengthening exercise, it also targets various other muscles, including your shoulders, back, chest, glutes, hamstrings and quads. It does this using isometric contraction — contracting muscles without moving through a range of motion.

The best plank variations use different methods to change the emphasis on the muscles worked, helping you achieve a full-body burn using one effective exercise. We’ve rounded up the best plank variations that we’ve tried and tested ourselves for at least one week over the year. And trust us, we’ve accumulated some serious reps during that time. 

Grab one of the best yoga mats for workouts, and read on. 

Best plank variations: benefits of planks

Woman performing a forearm plank pike with hips elevated in the air and feet down on the mat

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Planks are a compound exercise that build a strong core, protect your body from injury and support movement. Your core muscles are a complex network of superficial and deeper muscles which help your trunk rotate, flex and more. 

These muscles don’t just include your abs — they also wrap the entire way around your trunk, consisting of deeper muscles like the transverse abdominis and erector spinae and superficial muscles like your external obliques and rectus abdominis ‘six-pack’ muscles. 

By working your core in various ways, you could build a strong, more balanced engine that helps you lift heavier, run faster, coordinate better and achieve more complex lifts like deadlifts and squats. But while developing core muscle and strength could sculpt more midsection definition, body fat percentage determines how visible your abs are. 

You’ll need to factor in diet, regular exercise, hormones, sleep and stress — all contribute toward how much body fat you store. And you can’t spot-reduce belly fat, so we recommend reading up on how to calculate your body fat percentage and why it matters here. 

In the meantime, these best plank variations will torch your core, work various muscle groups and help you build strength. 

19 best plank variations to build core strength and muscle 

Here’s our tried and tested best plank variation round-up, and boy did we work for them.

1. Commando planks

an illo of a man doing a walking plank

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Commando planks or walking planks mean moving between high plank and forearm plank. You can learn how to do an up-down plank with variations here. Commando or “military” planks target your chest, arms, and shoulders and increase your heart rate. Strengthening the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings in your posterior chain could improve posture and develop a stronger core and shoulder muscles. 

It’s a top-tier core torcher if you want a full-body burner. Find out what happened when I did 90 commando planks every day for a week. You could also try wearing a weight vest or balancing on one leg to scale up the move. 

2. Reverse planks

an illustration of a woman doing a reverse plank

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Flip a high or forearm plank upside down, and that’s a reverse plank. Turning this exercise on its head strengthens your abdominal muscles, arms, shoulders, back, glutes, and legs. If you have weaker wrists, then we recommend opting for the forearm variation, but the straight-arm variation targets your arm muscles.

The variation hits your posterior chain harder for a back-body burner. Keep your hips lifted and give everything a good squeeze to prevent lower back pain. We promise you’ll feel this one everywhere — check out reverse plank how-to’s here. 

3. Weighted side planks

an image of a woman doing weighted side planks

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Our fitness editor rates this as one of the best ab variations for your oblique muscles, targeting the internal and external oblique muscles. It can be done bodyweight or using a set of the best adjustable dumbbells or a weight plate.

Your oblique muscles help rotate and bend your trunk and protect your spine. The move also targets the deep stabilizing muscles in your hips, trunk, shoulders, and glutes. Our fitness editor did weighted side planks every day for a week and shared how to scale them. 

4. Plank toe taps "X planks"

an illo of a woman doing plank toe touches

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It’s an excellent plank variation for activating the upper and lower body and deep stabilizer muscles. The move involves moving from a high plank to a downward dog and tapping one hand on the opposite foot. The gentle rotation engages your obliques, giving more bang for your buck, and stretches the shoulders and upper back, also improving spine mobility. 

Our fitness editor did 90 plank toe taps a day for a week — you can learn to do them here. 

5. Plank pikes

an illo of the plank to pike exercise

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Recently, I did 70 plank pikes every day for a week, and you can learn to do every variation here. The moving plank variation torches your shoulders and core muscles by changing your hip, shoulder, and foot position. 

Plank pikes strengthen the muscles in your shoulders, arms, chest, back, core, hips, and legs and develop flexibility in your spine and down the backs of the legs and hips. You can use straight arms or forearms and either send your hips back into the pike or draw your feet inwards to achieve it.

Some variations are tougher than others, and all versions emphasize different muscle groups, making it the most versatile plank about.

6. Spiderman planks

an illo of a woman doing a spiderman plank

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It’s an intermediate-level ab exercise that engages your entire core musculature, including the external and internal oblique muscles, triceps, shoulders, and glutes, as you crunch your knees towards the outside of your elbows, like Spiderman crawling up a building. 

You could use your forearms for this move, but either way, it’s a burner, as our fitness editor found out doing 50 Spiderman planks a day for a week (where she also explains how to do them). 

7. Plank hip dips

an illo of a woman doing plank hip dips

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The variation targets the obliques, transverse abdominis, the stabilizer muscles in your shoulders, and the muscles in your back. From a forearm plank, you’ll rotate through your torso to tap the outside of your hip to the floor and change sides. The twisting motion is a trunk-torcher unsuitable for beginners or back injuries.

Find out how to do plank hip dips here, along with tips from our fitness editor.  

8. Bear planks

an illo of a woman doing a bear plank

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The bear variation engages the core, arms, and quads by starting in a tabletop position, tucking your toes, and lifting your knees an inch off the floor. And although ‘bear abs’ might not be a thing, the exercise mimics how a bear moves.

It forces you to keep your core engaged and stay as still as possible. You can add leg lifts by slowly raising one foot, then the other, alternating every 2-3 seconds. You could also loop one of the best resistance bands around your lower thighs, just above the knees, to engage your lower body or adopt bear crawls, which involve moving across the floor. 

You can get the full bear plank lowdown here. 

9. RKC planks

Stock image of person performing an RKC plank in forearm plank position

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RKC or Russian planks look similar to forearm planks, except you’ll form tight fists and (without moving) drag your feet and elbows toward each other. This one is about added muscle engagement and is arguably the most effective plank variation. 

Increasing the intensity could activate more muscles in a shorter time. Everything comes down to contracting and squeezing more muscles, moving the hand position from parallel to fists turned in. Squeeze checkpoints include fists, externally rotated shoulders, quads and glutes, and contracting your legs and feet toward each other. 

Learn how to do RKC planks here.  

10. Plank jacks

how to do plank jacks illo

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Cross a jumping jack with a plank, and you get a plank jack. The dynamic core move engages your stabilizer muscles to secure your body as you jump your legs in and out from a forearm or high plank position. It also works your abs and shoulders, helping to develop shoulder strength. You’ll activate all your core muscles, hips, and back and ramp up your heart rate.

See what happened when our fitness editor did 100 plank jacks every day for a week and how to do plank jacks here. 

11. Side planks

an illo of a woman doing a side plank

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Doing bodyweight side planks every day for a week is no joke, as one of our fitness writers found out. It’s a more accessible variation than the weighted side plank but still teaches balance and stability and builds posture and shoulder strength. 

The move hits the obliques and deep stabilizing muscles in the hips, trunk, and up to your shoulders, activating your glutes. The serratus anterior (a large muscle that fans across your upper ribs and helps to move your shoulder blade) will also be working hard, so anyone with shoulder stability issues might need to pop a knee down for support or give this one a miss. 

12. Knee planks

an illo of a woman holding a knee plank

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It’s worth starting with knee planks to help you build up your core strength, but the modification is anything but the easy way out — they’ll target your deep core muscles (transverse abdominis), six-pack muscles (rectus abdominis), shoulders, and your internal and external oblique muscles.

To do knee planks, simply drop your knees to the ground. It helps beginners or anyone returning from injury to work on form with less pressure on the lower back.

13. Side plank dips

a photo of a woman doing side plank dips

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Side plank dips combine a side plank with hip dips. The move could sculpt stronger core muscles and build strength in your back and shoulders. All you need to do is hold a side plank with your elbow resting beneath your shoulder, then slowly lower your hip to the floor and drive it back up.

The exercise primarily targets your oblique muscles, shoulders, deep stabilizer muscles in your hips and trunk and the back muscles, including your latissimus dorsi (lats). You’ll also work your glutes and engage the outer glutes, known as the gluteus medius. 

14. Wall planks

a photo of a man doing a wall plank

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A wall plank involves a wall. No surprise there. Instead of feet resting on the ground, as they would in a regular plank, feet are pressed against a wall in line with your body. 

A wall plank fires up the core muscles even more as it takes more effort and stability  to hold your body in a straight line against the wall. A wall plank also engages muscles in the lower body for a full-body workout. With other planks, there’s less pressure on muscles as feet are resting on the ground, so you need to nail your form and actively focus on your core muscles keeping you upright.

15. Copenhagen planks

a photo of a woman doing a copenhagen plank

(Image credit: YouTube/E3 Rehab)

The Copenhagen plank is one of the most challenging plank variations out there. Unlike commando planks, you’ll be working your lower body just as hard. The exercise got its name from research conducted in Denmark, which found it helped to prevent groin pulls in athletes. 

Your hip adductors, or inner thigh muscles, can be prone to tears during exercise. The research found this exercise strengthened the adductors, helping prevent groin strains or pulls. To do it, you'll need a chair and stable shoulders so that you can rest on one elbow without strain. 

16. Plank ski jumps

This torching plank variation gets its name from the lateral ski jump exercise, which targets the glutes, quads and hamstrings. However this time, you’re jumping both legs to the side with bent knees while you’re in the plank position, forcing your core to work hard to stabilize your body as you move your legs from side to side. 

To do the move, simply jump both feet to the side behind your elbow, and back again. 

17. Chinese planks

Man performing a prone Chinese plank with fronts of shoulders rested on an exercise bench and feet rested on a box behind him

(Image credit: YouTube/ prsallday)

The move involves laying on your back in the supine position, with your upper back and heels supported on a bench or similar and the rest of your body unsupported, turning the standard plank upside down.

Grab two study surfaces, like exercise benches or boxes, and your body weight. This variation targets and strengthens the core and posterior chain muscles, including the latissimus dorsi (lats), erector spinae, glutes, hamstrings and calf muscles.

18. Three-legged plank

a photo of a woman doing a three-legged plank

(Image credit: Getty/zoranm)

The three-legged plank will probably be familiar to anyone who does yoga. In short, it’s a high plank with one limb raised, which is about as elegant as it sounds. It’s also known as a plank with leg lift (we know, so meta). 

You can choose to raise one arm rather than one leg,, and as with other plank variations, it works the core, arms and shoulders, your back, chest, quads and glutes.

19. Plank tucks

Woman performing a high plank in the left image and a plank tuck with knees bent in the second image

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The exercise works your shoulders, arms, core muscles, hip flexors, lower back and legs. To do plank tucks, you’ll start in a plank position, jump both legs between your hands, then jump back again. The move can also be included in cardio workouts to ramp up your heart rate.

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Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III qualified fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods.  When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.