17 Plank Pose Variations to Build Strength and Stability

Planks can be a triathlete's secret weapon for killer core strength.

Photo: Getty Images

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Chances are you’ve planked literally hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Regardless of any strong feelings you might have about the pose (we hear you cursing while counting the seconds), you know how a plank should look and feel: shoulders stacked over wrists with a strong, straight line from head to heels and engagement of your entire front body.

But playing with the way you practice the foundational pose—while still following safe alignment—can help you build strength and balance in unexpected ways. Planks can be a triathlete’s secret weapon for killer core strength, which translates to better form, fatigue resistance, and speed. The following variations can help you engage underutilized muscles along your back body and build more stability as well as change things up.

17 Plank Pose Variations

Woman practicing Plank Pose with her knees down
(Photo: Rachel Land)

1. Plank Pose With Your Knees Down

This variation reduces the weight supported by your upper body. Although it’s often offered for students new to Plank, more experienced students can use it to buy time in the pose and build endurance, refine alignment, or experiment with some new-to-you variations, including some that follow.

How to: Simply bring your knees to the floor. You can point or tuck your toes, depending on which option feels more comfortable.

Woman practicing Forearm Plank on a yoga mat
(Photo: Rachel Land)

2. Forearm Plank Pose

This version of Plank builds upper body strength without placing load on the wrists, which can require time to adjust to a weight-bearing position that’s common in vinyasa classes but rare in daily life. Forearm Plank achieves this by decreasing the incline between your shoulders and heels, effectively shifting your weight away from your lower body toward your upper. That change transfers some of the load from larger leg muscles, which are already accustomed to carrying your weight, toward smaller chest and shoulder muscles, which are less adapted to doing so.

How to: Bring your forearms to the mat. Bring your forearms to the mat, stacking your elbows under your shoulders. You can bring your hands together in prayer position or keep your forearms parallel, depending on which option feels stronger to you.

Woman practicing Plank Pose with hands on blocks
(Photo: Rachel Land)

3. Plank Pose With Hands on Blocks (Incline Plank)

Another option that has a similar effect to lowering your knees is placing your hands on support. The higher your hands, the less the load on your upper body. This variation can make straight-leg variations—such as single leg lifts, opposite arm and leg lifts, and heel flips—more approachable.

How to: Place your hands on sturdy blocks or the seat of a chair.

Woman practicing Plank Pose with feet on blocks
(Photo: Rachel Land)

4. Plank Pose With Feet on Blocks (Decline Plank)

You can offer a similar challenge to Forearm Plank by setting your feet onto a support, allowing you to build upper body strength in a straight arm position.  The higher your feet, the greater the demand on your upper body.

How to: Place your feet on sturdy blocks or the seat of a chair.

Woman practicing Plank Pose with hands in front of her shoulders on the yoga mat
(Photo: Rachel Land)

5. Plank Pose With Hands in Front of Your Shoulders

This version shifts your hands further away from the load (your body weight), which increases the demands on all the muscles that support you in Plank, including your arms, shoulders, chest, abdominals, and quads. The further forward you walk your hands away from your shoulders, the more difficult the pose becomes.

How to: Walk your hands slightly forward of your shoulders.

Woman practicing yoga with feet planted against wall
(Photo: Rachel Land)

6. Plank Pose With Feet at the Wall

No support beneath your feet means you need to brace yourself against the downward pull of gravity by recruiting the shoulder, chest, abdominal, and thigh muscles.

How to: Set up in Plank with the soles of your feet against the base of a wall. Inch your hands slightly forward of your shoulders to brace you in place, then lift one foot at a time and press strongly into the wall at about your shoulder height.

Woman practicing yoga with her toes pointed
(Photo: Rachel Land)

7. Plank Pose with Pointed Toes

This variation of Plank shifts the emphasis from your quads to the front and outer lower legs, which contain muscles that are unaccustomed to being stressed in Plank.

How to: Place the tops of your feet on the mat rather than tucking your toes. Ground evenly through the tops of all your toes, and magnetize your inner ankles toward each other rather than letting them splay out wide.

Woman practicing Plank Pose with her hands wider than her shoulders
(Photo: Rachel Land)

8. Plank Pose With Wide Arms

Taking your hands wider than your shoulders forces your chest—including your pecs and shoulder adductors—to work harder than usual. This is especially noticeable if you walk your hands wider than the grippy surface of your mat, as you’ll need to squeeze your hands toward each other to stop them sliding further apart.

How to: Turn your hands out slightly and walk them wider than your shoulders. The wider your hands, the greater the challenge.

Woman practicing Plank Pose with one arm tapping opposite shoulder
(Photo: Rachel Land)

9. Plank Pose With Shoulder Taps

This variation is a great starting point for balancing Plank variations as it keeps the lifted limb close to the center of the body. Maintaining stable body position while removing a point of contact with the floor adds a balance element to your Plank.

How to: Keep your torso steady and square to the mat as tap one hand to your opposite shoulder. Move as smoothly as you can back to your starting position to repeat on the other side.

Woman practicing Plank Pose with one arm lifted off the yoga mat
(Photo: Rachel Land)

10. Plank Pose with Arm Lifts

This variation also builds upper body stability while engaging commonly underutilized posterior shoulder and back muscles.

How to: Keep your torso steady and square to the mat as you reach one arm alongside your ear. Keep your gaze down at the mat.

Woman practicing Plank Pose with one leg lifted off the yoga mat
(Photo: Rachel Land)

11. Plank Pose With Leg Lifts

Straight- or bent-leg lifts during Plank shift the emphasis to increasing hip stability and working the commonly underutilized muscles on the back of your lower body, including your hamstrings and glutes.

How to: Keep your hips steady and square to the mat as you lift one leg. Either keep the leg strong and straight, or bend your knee to press the ball of your foot toward the ceiling. Repeat on the other side.

Woman in Plank Pose on a yoga mat with opposite leg and arm extended straight
(Photo: Rachel Land)

12. Plank Pose with Opposite Arm and Leg Lifts

After you’ve acclimated to single leg lifts, challenge you balance even more by lifting your opposite arm.

How to: Keep your chest and hips still and square to the mat as you slowly lift one leg and your opposite hand. Draw in around your midsection as you reach in opposite directions through hand and foot.

Woman practicing crunches in Plank Pose on a yoga mat
(Photo: Rachel Land)

13. Plank Pose With Crunch

Adding a crunch to your Plank also works hip stability by reducing your contact with the mat but targets the opposite side of the body as leg lifts, boosting abdominal and hip flexor strength.

How to: For a straight plank crunch, keep your torso fairly square to the mat as you float one foot, bend that knee, and squeeze it toward the same-side shoulder, scooping your belly to round your back. Repeat on the other side.

For a cross-body crunch, float one foot, bend that knee, and draw it across your body toward the opposite elbow or shoulder. This time allow your pelvis to turn toward your target shoulder and squeeze your oblique abdominals. Repeat on the other side.

woman practicing plank pose on a yoga mat with legs wide.
(Photo: Rachel Land)

14. Plank Pose Walks

Like leg lifts, Plank Walks build lower body stability with the added challenge of movement. This trains you in balanced use of the muscles on your inner thighs and outer hips, which is preparation for balancing poses and transitions between standing poses.

How to: Maintain a level pelvis while walking one foot out wide, then the other one. Then one at a time, back to hip-width.

Woman practicing Plank Pose on a yoga mat with her heels leaning to one side
(Photo: Rachel Land)

15. Plank Pose With Heel Flips

Then repeat on the other side. This hybrid of Plank and Vasisthasana (Side Plank) offers some of the benefits of each—it provides work for your side body and outer hips and offers a transition option if you’re heading from Plank to Side Plank.

How to: Maintain a level pelvis while rolling your toes to point toward one long side of the mat and coming onto the edges of your feet.

Woman practicing Plank Pose on a yoga mat in a variation with her knees bent
(Photo: Rachel Land)

16. Bear Plank

This variation brings in some of the actions of Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), switching up the way that both the upper body and lower body muscles work. It targets arm strength in the overhead position rather than in front of your chest, and builds leg strength with bent knees instead of straight legs.

How to: Bend your knees and hover your shins just above the may, arms straight and alongside your ears and hips high.

Woman practicing Plank Pose on a yoga mat with blocks beneath her shoulders

17. Plank With Blocks Beneath Your Shoulders

It’s harder than it looks! This variation forces you to rely more on your abdominals, hip flexors, and quads and less on your chest and shoulders. It’s especially helpful for those training for Handstand, as you need to scoop your front body away from the mat.

How to: Instead of bearing weight on your hands in Plank, rest your shoulders on blocks.

Rachel Land is a Yoga Medicine instructor offering group and one-on-one yoga sessions in Queenstown New Zealand, as well as on-demand at practice.yogamedicine.com. Passionate about the real-world application of her studies in anatomy and alignment, Rachel uses yoga to help her students create strength, stability, and clarity of mind. Rachel also co-hosts the new Yoga Medicine Podcast.

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