Improve core strength with challenging plank variations

November 1, 2013

A strong core is one of the keys to a successful cardio workout. Whether you’re running on a home treadmill like a True M30 Home Treadmill, or riding on exercise bike equipment like a True ES700 Home Upright Bike, having solid abdominal and back muscles help you maintain a correct posture, stay upright and balanced and breathe better.

In between sessions on your home fitness equipment, you can strengthen your core through a series of plank exercises. These particular moves are beneficial for not only keeping your abdominals and back strong, but other major muscle groups as well. For example, during plank exercises you must keep your leg muscles tight to avoid your knees hitting the ground, and you must engage your upper body to support your body weight.

Traditional planks
A standard plank is simple: start by lying on the ground. Push up onto your hands and feet so your body is one long line from head to toe – like a board. Squeeze your ab muscles and hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds. Side planks are a variation that works the obliques, or side ab muscles. For side planks, you start by lying on one side. Prop your upper body up on your hand then the rest of your body, so you’re on your feet. Squeeze your front and side abs and hold for 30 to 60 seconds.

Challenging plank variations
Planks are a great exercise because they don’t require any equipment, can be done anywhere and are effective. Even so, it can get boring to perform the same exercise after a while. To keep things interesting, you can try different variations or add-ons to the traditional plank.

Plank-pike: For a plank-pike, you’ll start in the standard plank position. From there, you’ll lift your hips up into the air like you’re folding in half, then return to the starting position. Repeat this motion for three 60-second rounds.

Walking plank: Start in the standard plank position. On each side, switch from your hand to your forearm, then push yourself back up to the starting position. Repeat this up and down motion for two to three rounds of 30 to 60 seconds each. This not only targets the abs, but works the shoulders, biceps and triceps as well!

Rotating plank: Again, start in the standard plank position. Lift your right hand and rotate your whole body into a side plank on your left hand, then return to the starting position. Repeat on the other side, lifting your left hand and rolling into a right side plank. Repeat five to 10 times on each side.

Arm and leg lifts: Begin in the standard plank position. When you feel comfortable, lift up your right arm, then bring it back to the ground. Repeat the same exercise with your left arm. Then switch to your feet, lifting your right foot, then your left foot. This will challenge your balance in addition to working your muscles, which helps build core muscles as they stabilize your entire body. As you become more comfortable with this move, you can try lifting your right hand and left foot at the same time and then switch to the other side to really test your balance.

Hip drop: Once again, start in the traditional plank position. Rotate your hips so the right one drops toward the ground. Bring your hips back to the center then rotate and drop your left hip. Repeat 10 times on each side.

Once you see an improvement in your core strength, you’ll notice how it assists with your cardio workouts. You’ll have less of a risk of injury because your form will be better and your run or bike ride will be more efficient.