Drive up the intensity of your planks by adding knee movement.
Planks aren't a funky, new-age alternative to crunches. When it comes to working your abs and other core muscles, planks are the new normal. Holding your body in a board-like position engages your entire torso and requires input from your arms, shoulders and legs. If standard planks no longer keep you challenged, or if you want some variety in your core workout, add movement to the mix. Using standard front-facing and side-facing plank positions, change up the basic exercise by drawing your knee to your elbow.
All planks -- from the most basic static hold to more advanced movement-based variations -- help strengthen your shoulder and core, including your abdominals, hips and back muscles. A perfectly executed plank promotes better posture and balance and increases stability along your spine. You can prop yourself up on your elbows -- letting your forearms absorb some of your weight -- or extend your arms fully, which stretches the forearm muscles and increases wrist flexibility. All of these benefits -- strength, balance, stability and flexibility -- can enhance your sports performance, provide protection from injury and make day-to-day living easier.
Make sure you can perform a basic static plank with impeccable form before adding knee movement. In both forward-facing and side-facing positions, your body should form a single continuous line from the top of your head through your shoulders and hips to your heels. Keep your abs and thighs engaged to support your lower back, but consciously relax your face, neck, shoulders and chest. You should feel strong and stable, but also light and lifted. Try holding the static plank for 45 to 60 seconds or for the duration of 20 to 25 breaths.
On the Front Line
Adding a knee-to-elbow movement to the front-facing plank notches up the intensity considerably. Because one leg is in motion, your body has three points of contact with the floor instead of four, so your core has to work extra hard to keep you stable. After moving into a standard plank on your forearms or hands, shift your weight slightly to your left leg. From here, you have two options. You can bend your right knee and draw it toward the outside of your right elbow or draw your right knee under and across your torso to your left elbow. After drawing knee to elbow, return the foot to the start position, preferably without touching your foot to the floor. Complete eight to 12 knee-to-elbow reps with your right leg before switching legs.
Doing knee-to-elbow lifts from a side-facing position puts more emphasis on your butt and hips, as well as the oblique muscles that wrap around the sides of your torso. Again, you have several options. Move into a stable side plank with your right leg stacked on top of your left. Keep your left forearm on the floor, or boost the challenge by extending your left arm perpendicularly to the floor. When you find your balance, extend your right arm toward the ceiling. Maintaining the integrity of your plank, bend your right knee and right elbow and draw them together for a count of one. Return to the start position. Alternatively, stagger your legs in the side plank and draw your left knee across your chest, toward your bent right elbow. Return to the start position. Repeat the knee-to-elbow movement for eight to 12 reps. Roll to your other side and repeat the exercise with your left arm and leg.
Never compromise on safety when you add movement to your plank. If adding a dynamic knee lift causes your form to suffer or if you experience pain in your shoulder or back as a result of the additional movement, revert back to standard static planks. Finish off your plank workout with light stretches to prevent soreness and preserve flexibility. "Yoga Journal" recommends moving into Downward-Facing Dog or Child's Pose to relax your back and shoulder muscles.