9 Plank Variations To Strengthen Your Core & Shake Up Your Yoga Practice

Use plank variations in your practice to strengthen your core whilst mixing up your yoga practice.

A core-strengthening yoga flow will often flow through a selection of plank variations, each one connecting you to your center, developing your physical strength, and nudging you to find and tap into your inner stillness.

In this article we are going to dive into all things plank variations and look at:

  • What The Core Is
  • 6 Benefits Of Having A Strong Core
  • How Long You Should Be Holding Plank Variations For
  • 9 Plank Variations
  • Plank Variations Precautions & Contraindications
a woman in fitness clothes with her hands framing her core

What is the core?

The core doesn’t simply refer to the allusive ‘six pack muscles’. Instead, the core is actually an interconnected group of muscles that include:

  • the back muscles,
  • the hip muscles,
  • the pelvic muscles,
  • the glute muscles,
  • the abdominal muscles,
  • and the diaphragm muscles

6 Benefits of having a strong core

Having a strong core isn’t all about getting that six-pack. Yes, that can be a good motivator, but the benefits of having a strong core reach far beyond that and are much more valuable.

These benefits include (but are not limited to):

#1: Improved balance and stability– A strong base makes you more stable on your feet.

#2: Improved posture– Because your core wraps around your entire torso, when your core muscles are stronger, it helps you to keep a more upright posture.

#3: Pain prevention– By supporting your lower back, you’ll reduce pain and strain to your lower back.

#4: Day-to-day tasks are easier– Lifting up boxes or moving your sofa around? You’ll have a much easier time doing so if your core is strong.

#5: Improved mental strength– Pushing through perceived physical barriers is an amazing way to train your mental strength. The more you cultivate your physical strength, the more you’ll be able to rely on yourself in many other aspects of your life.

#6: Improved back health– The core plays a key role in keeping your back supported and protected. Generally speaking, a strong core means fewer backaches and back problems!

a group of yoga students in class doing plank pose

How long to hold plank Variations for?

There’s no straight answer for this, it really depends on why you’re doing variations of the plank in the first place. Let’s break down how long to hold a plank for in each circumstance:

For Improved Strength And Stability:

Do repetitions of 10-30 seconds.

By coming in and out of your plank hold, you’ll be challenging yourself to hold the same form each time, even as your core and arms get shaky. As the repetitions go on, you’ll be working on your strength and stability in an effort to keep your form.

Repetitions might look like plank to downward facing dog pose intervals, or taking a vinyasa with an extended plank hold.

For Improved Muscular Endurance:

Try pulsing your plank!

This could be done by dipping and lifting your hips in a side plank, dipping and rotating your hips side to side in a low plank, or lifting your knee towards your chest in a high plank.

The pulsing motion helps to isolate the core muscles in action. This means that they fatigue much more quickly, leading to improved endurance.

For Improved Mental Strength:

As long as you can! Play at the curiously flexible limits of your physical and mental endurance and see if you can find a place of stillness in the arm-shaking hold.

a woman grey yoga clothes in plank pose

The Importance Of Alignment + Alignment tips

Alignment is super important in plank variation for two main reasons:

1: It protects your joints and muscles

2: It helps you to effectively target the right muscles

In any plank variation, it is important to keep your body in a straight line from your point of contact with the floor to the top of your head. Keep your neck long and neutral and your shoulders stacked over your point of contact with the floor.

12 Plank variations

#1: Forearm Plank On Knees

Level: Beginner

Forearm Plank On Knees Muscles Targeted: lower abdominal muscles, mid abdominal muscle, internal & external obliques.

The forearm and knee plank is one of the best entry-level plank variations, so if it’s been a while since you’ve practiced core-strengthening exercises, this one’s for you.

How To:

  1. From a tabletop position, come down onto your knees and forearms.
  2. Find your alignment my making sure that your body is in one long straight line from your knees to the top of your head.
  3. Place your forearms parallel to each other on the mat, fingers engaged and pressing down into the mat.

#2: Straight Arm Plank On Knees

Level: Beginner

Straight Arm Plank On Knees Muscles Targeted: lower abdominal muscles, mid abdominal muscle, internal & external obliques, arm muscles, upper back muscles.

One step up from a kneeling forearm plank, but a great stepping stone to a full high plank.

How To:

  1. From a tabletop position, come down onto your hands and knees, creating a long straight line from the knees to the top of your head.
  2. Your fingers should be facing to the front of your mat, arms rotated forward.
  3. Press down into the mat and avoid collapsing in your shoulders.
  4. Engage all ten fingers by spreading and pressing them down into the mat.

#3: Forearm Side Plank

Level: Beginner

Forearm Side Plank Muscles Targeted: obliques, shoulder muscles, upper back muscles.

Target your obliques in your side body with this plank variation.

How To:

  1. From a forearm plank, roll over onto the outer edge of your left foot and the inner edge of your right foot.
  2. Shift your weight onto your left forearm, rotating it so that is pointing towards the left, and reach your right arm up to the sky, facing towards your left with the front of your body.
  3. Either stay in this position with your feet, or stack your right foot on top of your left to challenge your stability further.
  4. Once you’re done, roll back through forearm plank and switch sides.
a group of people in a yoga class doing a side plank

#4: Straight Arm Side Plank

Level: Intermediate

Straight Arm Side Plank Muscles Targeted: obliques, shoulder muscles, arm muscles, upper back muscles.

Don’t be fooled, this simple shape can leave you wobbling in no time!

The side plank, also known as Vasisthasana, is a classic for targeting the oblique muscles, that is the muscles that run all the way down your core’s side body.

In this pose, stay conscious of not dipping or raising your hips.

How To:

  1. From a full high plank, roll over onto the outer edge of your left foot and the inner edge of your right foot.
  2. Shift your weight onto your left hand and reach your right arm up to the sky, facing towards your left with the front of your body.
  3. Either stay in this position with your feet, or stack your right foot on top of your left to challenge your stability further.
  4. Once you’re done, roll back through high plank and switch sides.
a woman in side plank on a yoga mat

#5: Full Plank With Shoulder Taps

Level: Advanced

Full Plank With Shoulder Taps Muscles Targeted: hip flexors, arm muscles, abdominal muscles, back muscles, glutes, quads, and hamstrings.

The main challenge with this plank variation is to avoid rocking too much from side to side. Try and keep your pelvis steady and work build stability in your shoulder muscle by making sure to fully engage your core with each tap.

How To:

  1. Start in a full high plank.
  2. Tap your opposite elbow with your opposite hand.
  3. Alternate hands whilst keeping alignment.

#6: Side To Side Walking Plank

Level: Advanced

Side To Side Walking Plank Muscles Targeted: deltoids, abdominal muscles, quads, glute muscles, hamstrings, and calves.

Take your plank for a walk with this variation.

How To:

  1. Begin in a full high plank.
  2. Take a step to the right by simultaneously moving your right hand and foot to the right.
  3. Follow by moving your left hand and foot to the right to find your high plank pose again.
  4. Take a couple more ‘steps’ to the right before taking the same amount back to the left.
a man working out outside doing plank pose

#7: Upward Facing Plank

Level: Advanced

Upward Facing Plank Muscles Targeted: shoulders, arms, glutes, hamstrings, back muscles, abdominal muscles

Target the lesser-known core muscles with this plank variation, known as Purvottanasana.

How To:

  1. Sit tall with your legs stretched out in front of you in Staff Pose Dandasana.
  2. Place your hands a little way behind your hips with your fingers facing towards your toes.
  3. Point your toes.
  4. Engage your core and lift up through the hips, straightening the arms, and keeping the chin tucked, until your body is in one long straight line.
  5. Once you’re in upward facing plank, release the neck and look backwards.
a woman in upward facing plank, one of the plank variations

#8: Full Plank With Knee To Elbow

Level: Intermediate

Full Plank With Knee To Elbow Muscles Targeted:

Mix it up and alternate between same and opposite elbow knee taps to target every layer of your core muscles.

How To:

  1. From a high plank position, bend your right knee and bring it up as close as it will go toward your right elbow.
  2. Hold and squeeze this position before lowering your right leg back into high plank.
  3. Repeat on the other side.

#9: Bear Plank

Level: Intermediate

Bear Plank Muscles Targeted: gluteus medius and maximus, quadriceps, psoas, shoulder muscles, arm muscles, and entire abdominal area.

This is a great pose for generating a little heat whilst transitioning from tabletop pose to downward facing dog.

How To:

  1. Start in tabletop pose with your toes tucked, your hands stacked directly underneath your shoulders, and your knees directly underneath your hips.
  2. Engage your core to pull up and hover your knees off the ground by just a couple of inches.

Plank Variations Precautions & Contraindications

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome:

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is the compression of the median nerve in the wrist. As most plank poses put a significant amount of pressure through the wrists, it is best to avoid these plank variations if you suffer from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Injury / Surgery:

If you are currently dealing with a recent surgery or injury in the hands, arms, shoulders, back, or stomach area, it may be a good idea to steer clear of plank variations whilst you recover and rehabilitate.

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Maria Andrews is a 200h Registered Yoga Teacher, long distance runner, and adventure lover. She finds joy in learning, experiencing, and connecting.

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