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I have a love-hate relationship with planks.
I get that they’re so good for you (not only do they work your entire core, they also work your back, hips, arms and shoulders), but it’s hard AF to hold one position for 60—or even just 30—seconds.
I’ve never been one to turn down a challenge, so when the opportunity to take on 60 seconds of planking every day for two weeks fell on my plate, I decided to give it a go.
Before I started this experiment, I was wrapping up training for the NYC marathon. Running had so completely taken over my life that I had no time for any other workouts, but I desperately needed to keep up my core strength to help me on race day, ad the stronger your core, the more efficient of a runner you’ll be.
Challenging myself to hold a plank for 60 seconds every day seemed like a solid way to cram in some core training in as little time as possible. I was also going on holiday for two weeks and planks are an easy exercise to incorporate into a travel itinerary no matter where you are, so it was a win-win.
On day one, I timed myself to see how long I could hold a standard forearm plank. I’m totally guilty of cheating during planks (dropping down to my knees, shifting back into downward dog…), so I wanted to see how long I could actually last before giving into to gravity. I lasted two full minutes; not bad.
For the next twelve days, I tried holding a different variation per day for 60 seconds. I was inspired to add this variety to the two-week challenge by one of my favourite workout classes, Kira Stokes’ Athleticore, which features nine minutes (nine!!!) of plank variations at the start.
For my own take, I chose to try 13 different planks including a straight-arm plank, side plank with rotation, side plank with hip dips, plank jacks, plank shoulder taps, extended plank, forearm-plank hip dips, plank with knee touch, knee to elbow plank, side plank, knee to opposite elbow plank and plank up downs.
Scroll to the end to see descriptions of exactly how to do each move. I did all of these with the hope that, on day 14, I could hold that forearm plank for even longer than I did at the start. Here’s what I learned over the course of two weeks.
YOU REALLY CAN DO PLANKS LITERALLY ANYWHERE
I was nervous about finding the time to do any workouts on holiday, let alone following my marathon training plan.
Luckily, there’s zero excuse for not setting aside one to two minutes for a plank. I did planks in airports, planks in hotel rooms, planks at pools, planks in the desert and planks in the snow. I even did planks at the official Arctic Circle marker and in a sauna inside a Burger King in Helsinki. I realised that it would take me more time to whine about not wanting to do a plank than it actually took to drop and assume the position for 60 seconds.
Lesson learned: There are no excuses when it comes to finding time for a quick core workout.
PLANK VARIATIONS DO NOT MAKE PLANKS EASIER
My hope was that switching up my plank style each day would make the actual exercise feel easier. Maybe moving my knees or hips would distract me from realising I was still holding a plank? Maybe a little cardio would make the time pass faster? Not so. In fact, a lot of the variations made the planks feel harder, since more muscles were called into play.
PLANKS REALLY ARE A TOTAL BODY EXERCISE
I know trainers say this all the time. But I don’t always feel it (probably because of my tendency to cheat).
Thinking beyond the basic pushup position plank allowed me to try moves where I could literally feel more of my muscles engaging. The extended plank (which also made me want to cry) seriously fired up my lower abs; plank up downs tapped into all my shoulder and back muscles. And actually holding the planks for those 60 seconds made me realise how much work my body is really doing when I don’t wimp out halfway through—and that made me want to stick with it.
PLANKING IS A MENTAL GAME
Speaking of wimping out…
Obviously, planking is a very physical challenge. But what I learned from these 14 days was I already had the physical strength to hold the pose, it was my mental strength I needed to work on. I wasn’t dropping to my knees or shifting into downward dog because my shaking muscles just couldn’t handle another second; I was cheating because I was bored.
Sixty seconds is a long time to hold a static pose, especially one that engages as many muscles as a plank. The hardest variations in this challenge, for me, were the ones in which I didn’t move: forearm, straight arm and side planks. Getting to move in the other poses kept me just engaged enough with the exercise that I (mostly) stopped thinking about how much I just wanted to be done already.
DOING PLANKS REGULARLY DOES INCREASE YOUR STRENGTH
Okay, doing a 60-second plank every day isn’t going to help you go from holding a minute-long plank to holding one for nine straight minutes, but I did outlast my initial plank hold by 10 seconds on day 14! Ten additional seconds in a plank is no small feat, no matter what your starting time. It was proof to me that when you put in the work, it will pay off—especially if you’re consistent.
To me, though, these two weeks were less about hitting a certain time on my plank than proving to myself that I really can fit in some exercise no matter how hectic my schedule gets. Because if you can do a plank in a sauna inside a Burger King in Helsinki, where can’t you do one?
MY PLANK VARIATIONS
1. FOREARM PLANK
HOW TO: Start to get into a pushup position, but bend your elbows and rest your weight on your forearms instead of on your hands. Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles. Brace your core by contracting your abs as if you were about to be punched in the gut.
2. STRAIGHT-ARM PLANK
HOW TO: Get on all fours, and place your hands on the floor slightly wider than and in-line with your shoulders. Your body should form a straight line from your ankles to your shoulders. Squeeze your abs as tight as possible and keep them contracted for the entire exercise.
3. SIDE PLANK WITH ROTATION
HOW TO: In a right-side plank position, brace your abs and reach your left hand toward the ceiling. Slowly tuck your left arm under your body and twist forward until your torso is almost parallel to the floor. Return to the side plank. That’s one rep.
4. SIDE PLANK WITH HIP DIP
HOW TO: Keep one hand on the ground, the other up in the air. Your feet should both be on the ground, staggered, and your body balanced. Make sure your abs are tight. Dip your hip down slowly just a few inches and come back up. Repeat.
5. PLANK JACKS
HOW TO: Start in a straight-arm or forearm plank position, hands under your shoulders and feet next to each other. Jump your feet out to a wide V, then jump them back in again. Do as many as you can.
6. PLANK SHOULDER TAPS
HOW TO: Get into a pushup position with your hands shoulder-width apart on the floor. Keeping your hips square to the floor, lift your right hand and tap your left shoulder. Return to start and repeat with the other arm. Be sure to keep your torso still, and don’t shift from side to side as you tap your shoulders. Continue alternating.
7. EXTENDED PLANK
HOW TO: Get into a pushup position with your hands shoulder-width apart on the floor. Start walking your hands forward a few inches in front of your shoulders and hold. The further out your hands are, the more core stabilization you’ll need.
8. FOREARM-PLANK HIP DIP
HOW TO: Start in a forearm plank position. Make sure your abs are tight and you’re squeezing your butt. Slowly dip right hip to right side until hips are about one inch off the ground. Return to center, then repeat on the other side. Continue alternating.
9. PLANK WITH KNEE TOUCH
HOW TO: Start in a forearm plank position. While holding the plank, lower your right knee to the ground for a quick tap, return to center, then lower your left knee to the ground for a quick tap. Continue alternating.
10. KNEE TO ELBOW PLANK
HOW TO: Start in plank with your feet hip-width apart and hands directly beneath your shoulders. Lift your left foot off the ground, then bend your left knee and bring it toward your left elbow. Hold for three seconds before returning to starting position. Repeat, bringing your right knee toward your right elbow. Continue alternating.
11. SIDE PLANK
HOW TO: Lie on your right side with your legs straight. Prop yourself up with your right forearm so your body forms a diagonal line. Rest your left hand on your hip. Brace your abs and hold. Be sure your hips and knees stay off the floor. To make harder, alternate between a normal plank.
12. KNEE TO OPPOSITE ELBOW PLANK
HOW TO: Start in plank with your feet hip-width apart and hands directly beneath your shoulders. Lift your left foot off the ground, then bend your left knee and bring it toward your right elbow. Hold for three seconds before returning to starting position. Repeat, bringing your right knee toward your left elbow. Continue alternating.
13. PLANK UP DOWNS
HOW TO: Come down into a plank on your forearms, toes tucked, elbows under shoulders, and hips at the same height as shoulders. Pick up one arm and press that hand into the ground toward a high, straight-arm plank; do the same action with the other hand to complete the transition from low plank to high. With the lead arm, lower back to your forearm, then follow with the other hand. Repeat on this side for half the time, then change it up and lead with the second hand for the second half of the time.
This article originally appeared on Women’s Health US.
Want to work your abs more? Try these abs exercises for women or these tummy exercises.