Tag Archives: plank

Want to get stronger? Try these 3 brutally effective variations on lifting classics.

longleverplankThe interesting thing about strength training is that when it’s all said and done, there really aren’t that many movements you need to learn to reach your goals, whether that’s getting stronger, leaner, gaining more muscle, or all of the above. If you can check off the following boxes, you’re in good shape to get cracking with some good work at the gym:

-Squatting movements (like a goblet squat)
-Hinging movements (deadlifts, exercises that emphasize movement from your hips)
-Pushing movements (pushups, bench pressing, overhead pressing, etc.)
-Pulling movements (chin-ups and rows come to mind).
-Core stabilization and rotational power development (planks, chops, crunches, twists, etc.)
-Power movements – to build explosiveness and improve overall strength (think oly lifts, jump squats, plyometrics)

If we focused on improving just one move from each category, we could make quite a bit of progress for quite some time. But that’d get pretty boring, wouldn’t it? Not to mention that variations on exercises require our bodies to move, build strength and stability, and function better in slightly different ways. That’s where we spice things up with twists on the basics that we’ve come to know and love.

Sometimes we progress a movement because one becomes too easy. I’m going to show you one today. We often also use a variation of a staple to work our muscles differently, to get past a “sticking point” or even to work around an injury. Or sometimes just because it’s fun to change stuff up. Fun is important too, yeah? Read on for ideas:

Progress Your Plank
Once you can hold a plank pretty easily, you’re ready to move up in the world-o-planks. Congrats, it’s time to make them hard again. There are many ways to do this, but I’ve been messing around with long lever planks and even 1 legged long lever planks. They’re tough!

Here’s a demo:

How to do it:
Start by getting into the plank position and walking your feet back so that your elbows are in front of your shoulders instead of in a traditional plank, where you have them stacked under them. Brace those abs like you’re going to get sucker punched and hold there. Try starting with 3 sets of 10-20 seconds and tell me how much you love them.

A Squat You’ll Love-Hate
I think that every beginner would do well to begin with a simple body weight box squat to groove that sitting down and back movement that’s critical for the squat. From there, the sky’s the limit: goblet squats are a good next step, but another overlooked squat that works well not only for beginners but squat pros is the underrated Zercher Squat.

A Zercher squat may feel easier on the lower back than a barbell back squat; it also lets you get low (to the window, to the wall). It requires you to stay pretty upright, a good reminder for those who are new to squatting.

I put them to use for a client who is rehabbing her shoulder and can’t comfortably get into a back squat position. Zerchers feel great to her. Sometimes an injury allows us to discover a brand new way to get strong. Cue the silver lining, eh? 


And for those of us who have been squatting for a long while, it’s a great variation to play with to get some extra fun and glute gains on leg day. Oh, and they’re harder to load up than they look. Good grief.

Demo here:

How to do it:
You’re going to cradle that bar in the crook of your elbows. I really like a squat sponge for these, because they’re way more comfortable with the pad. If you don’t have one, try crossing your arms a bit around the bar to feel more secure. Some people deadlift them up from the floor but it seems a heck of a lot easier to me to just start with the bar in a rack at an appropriate height. Get under it a bit, lift it into your arms and walk it out a few steps.

Make Your Barbell Bench Press More Badass
It’s a smart idea to spend training cycles using slight variations of the “big players”: you know, the squat, deadlift, and bench press for starters. The bench press is a staple of the gym (and favorite bro lift of all time). Using variations like pausing at the chest, 1.5 reps, and using dumbbells instead of a barbell will make your bench press stronger over time.

I’m working on the eccentric bench press again this month after a short hiatus from barbell bench press. Holy hell it felt hard this week. Eccentrics will do a lot of muscle damage, which is actually a good thing. They’ll make you muy strong and force you to learn to control the bar better.

Check it:

How to do an eccentric bench press:

I sort of forgot I was doing an eccentric on the first rep. Heh. Progress, not perfection, right?

You’re going to try to lower the bar very, very slowly – take a full 4 seconds. You’ll notice that it’s toughest down near the bottom of the movement. That’s where you’re going to need to control it even more. Lower the weight on these: they’re brutal.

So you want to try these out in a workout?

Of course. So let’s do one today. On Instagram I shared a bonus: a lower body conditioning circuit you can use to give the Zercher squat and long lever plank a whirl. Check that out for butt feels and sweat-inducing fun. You can also put them into a classic full-body strength workout, like the one below.

1. Zercher Squat 4 x 6

2a. Eccentric barbell (or dumbbell) bench press 3 x 6
2b.Band pull aparts 3 x 12

3a. Barbell RDL with 4 second eccentric 3 x 8 (yup, another eccentric variation!)
3b. Chest supported row with a pause at the top 3 x 8

4a. Incline dumbbell bench press 3 x 10
4b. Long lever plank 3 x :15 seconds

Now go flex, and remember to never stop experimenting with movement, both within the gym and outside it. 

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Plank Party – Get More Out of the Plank in Less Time

Ready to change it up and have more fun with the plank? I know, the plank isn’t exactly synonymous with excitement. That’s because planking for a minute is really freaking boring. The truth is, you don’t need to hold a plank for eternity, and you probably shouldn’t. Read on for the basics on the plank exercise and how to spice them up to make them more effective AND interesting.

The plank is a great exercise to have in your fitness arsenal: it can help you learn to activate your core muscles, which will help stabilize your spine. It can teach you to feel what it’s like to brace your core, a skill that you’ll take with you into  the rest of your lifting workouts. For those new to fitness, building a solid plank will give basic core strength to build upon.

Learning to properly hold a basic plank is important: If your hips are saggy, your lower back kicks in and your abs won’t be properly firing. If your butt is too high in the air, the lower back and hip flexors do the work that your abdominals should be taking on.



Once you have the basic plank mastered, it might be tempting to try to increase the time you’re able to hold it. Fitness classes and online challenges often encourage us to try to hold the plank for as long as possible. While this might be fun for occasional bragging rights, these marathon sessions miss the point of the plank:

Planks should involve your entire body contracting forcefully. If you’re engaging your muscles properly, you shouldn’t be able to casually hold a plank while daydreaming. If you can, your hip flexors are likely doing more of the job anyway. The point of the core is to fire forcefully for short periods of time, not hang on for endurance.

Basic Plank Tips

  • Whether on forearms or hands, keep your shoulders away from your ears.
  • Make sure your elbows are lined up with your shoulders.
  • Your arms should be about shoulder width distance.
  • If your wrists hurt while planking on your hands, try the forearm variations or hold on to dumbbells.

So with that out of the way, how do we progress the plank to make it more challenging as well as more interesting? If you can hold standard plank for 45 seconds to a minute, you’re likely ready to move on. If you’re like me, you’d probably rather work really hard for a short period of time rather than hang on for 3 minutes while watching the clock. ZZZZZZZ.

silly pledge plank

Instead, check out these variations and give them a whirl. Pics from the video are outlined clockwise starting at the top left side! 

Pledge Plank
From a plank position on hands, bring your hand to the opposite shoulder, and repeat on the other side. Go back and forth for reps. Try 10 reps per side at first, trying to keep your body as stable as possible. Think about your hips being quiet so they don’t rock from side to side.

Push Up Plank
My coach Jordan gives these to me from time to time and they’re harder than they look! Again, the less movement out of your torso, the better. Move from a plank on your hands to a plank on your forearms. I like to go through half my reps leading with one side, and then switch to the other side for the rest. Try beginning with 4 or 5 per side.

Spider Planks
I don’t know if there’s an official name for these. “Knee to outside elbow plank” sounds wordy. I think about Spiderman’s crawling legs when I do these. Aim your knee to the outside of your elbow while you hold a plank on your hands or forearms. If your spidey sense is mighty, you might crank out between 10 and 12 reps per side.

Plank Roll-Out
In my mind, I move the ball waaaaay out. In reality, it barely slides forward. These are tough! Consider these an advanced plank variation but they’re a great challenge. Begin in a forearm plank on a stability ball. Push your forearms forward. Hold there for a second or two, then pull them back into your starting position. Yowzers! Start with as many as you can muster!

How to Fit Them Into Your Workout
Sets: 1-3
Timing: Try putting a set of these into your warmup routine. They also work well at the end of a strength workout or as part of a circuit.

Get out there and plank up! Leave a comment and tell me your favorite, or at least the most fun in that “I hate it at this very moment but I’m sure I’ll be ecstatic later” kind of way.