17 plank pose variations to play with to build strength and stability

May 30, 2023 0 Comments

“], “filter”: { “nextExceptions”: “img, blockquote, div”, “nextContainsExceptions”: “img, blockquote, a.btn, ao-button”} }”>

Going out the door? Read this article about the new Outside+ app, now available on member iOS devices! >”,”name”:”in-content-cta”,”type”:”link”}}”>Download the app.

Chances are, you’ve practiced plank pose literally hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Regardless of any strong feelings about the pose, you know what a Plank should look and feel like: shoulders folded over the wrists, with a strong straight line from head to heels and engagement of the entire front of the body.

But by playing around with how you train in a basic pose, sticking to a safe position, you can unexpectedly build strength and balance. The following variations can help you engage underused muscles along the back of your body to create more stability and make a difference.

17 variations of plank pose

A woman practices a plank pose with her knees down
(Photo: Rachel Land)

1. Beyond the planks with bent knees

This option reduces the weight supported by your upper body. Although it’s often suggested to students new to the Plank, more experienced students can use it to buy time in the pose and build endurance, improve alignment, or experiment with some new-to-you variations, including some of the following.

As: Just lower your knees to the floor. You can point or tuck your toes, whichever is more comfortable for you.

A woman practices a forearm plank on a yoga mat
(Photo: Rachel Land)

2. Beyond the forearm bar

This version of the plank strengthens the upper body without stressing the wrists, which can take time to adjust to in a weight-bearing position that is common in vinyasa practice but rare in everyday life. The forearm plank accomplishes this by reducing the angle between your shoulders and heels, effectively shifting your weight from your lower body to your upper body. This change transfers part of the load from the larger leg muscles, which are already used to carrying your weight, to the smaller chest and shoulder muscles, which are less adapted to it.

As: Bring your forearms to the mat. Bring your forearms to the mat, placing your elbows under your shoulders. You can bring your hands together in a prayer position or keep your forearms parallel, whichever option feels stronger to you.

Woman practicing plank pose with hands on blocks
(Photo: Rachel Land)

3. Pose of planks with hands on blocks (inclined plank)

Another option, which has a similar effect to kneeling, is to put your hands on a support. The higher your arms are, the less strain on your upper body. This variation can make straight leg variations such as single leg raises, opposite arm and leg raises, and heel flips more accessible.

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

Woman practices plank pose with feet on blocks
(Photo: Rachel Land)

4. Pose of planks with feet on blocks (tilt plank)

You can offer a similar challenge to the forearm plank by placing your feet on the support, which will allow you to increase your upper body strength in the straight arm position. The higher your legs are, the more demands are placed on your upper body.

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

A woman practices a plank pose with her hands in front of her shoulders on a yoga mat
(Photo: Rachel Land)

5. Out of the board with hands in front of shoulders

In this version, your arms are moved further away from the load (your body weight), which increases the stress on all the muscles that support you in the plank, including your arms, shoulders, chest, abs, and quads. The further forward you move your hands away from your shoulders, the more difficult the pose becomes.

As: Move your hands slightly forward from your shoulders.

A woman is doing yoga, leaning her legs against the wall
(Photo: Rachel Land)

6. The plank pose with feet on the wall

The lack of support under your feet means you have to resist gravity by engaging your shoulder, chest, stomach and hip muscles.

As: Install the board with the soles of your feet to the base of the wall. Extend your arms slightly forward from your shoulders to lock yourself in place, then lift one leg at a time and press hard against the wall at about shoulder height.

A woman practices yoga, showing her toes
(Photo: Rachel Land)

7. Off the plank with pointed toes

This variation of the plank shifts the emphasis from your quads to the front and outside of your calves, which contain muscles that aren’t used to being stressed during the plank.

As: Place the tops of your feet on the mat instead of pinching your toes. Evenly touch the tops of all your toes and magnetize your inner ankles to each other rather than letting them spread wide apart.

A woman practices plank pose, hands wider than shoulders
(Photo: Rachel Land)

8. Beyond the planks with arms outstretched

By placing your hands wider than your shoulders, you force the chest, including the pectoral muscles and shoulder adductors, to work harder than usual. This is especially noticeable if you spread your hands wider than the surface of the grip mat, as you will need to squeeze your hands together to keep them from moving further apart.

As: Open your hands slightly and pass them wider than your shoulders. The wider your hands, the greater the challenge.

A woman practices plank pose with one hand touching the opposite shoulder
(Photo: Rachel Land)

9. Off the board with taps on the shoulders

This variation is a great starting point for balancing plank variations because it keeps the lifted limb close to the center of the body. By maintaining a stable body position by eliminating the point of contact with the floor, you add an element of balance to your board.

As: Keep your torso flat and straight to the mat with one hand touching the opposite shoulder. Return to the starting position as smoothly as possible to repeat on the other side.

A woman practices a plank pose with one arm raised from the yoga mat
(Photo: Rachel Land)

10. Beyond the planks with arms raised

This variation also increases upper body stability while engaging the usually underused back muscles of the shoulders and back.

As: Keep your torso flat and straight to the mat as you extend one arm along your ear. Don’t look at the mat.

A woman practices a plank pose with one leg lifted off a yoga mat
(Photo: Rachel Land)

11. Pose of the bar with leg raises

Straight-leg or bent-leg raises during the plank shift the emphasis to increasing hip stability and working normally under-utilized muscles in the back of the lower body, including the hamstrings and glutes.

As: As you lift one leg, keep your hips flat and perpendicular to the mat. Either keep your leg strong and straight, or bend your knee to press your foot into the ceiling. Repeat on the other side.

Woman in plank pose on yoga mat with opposite leg and arm extended straight
(Photo: Rachel Land)

12. Beyond the planks with opposite lifts of arms and legs

Once you get used to lifting one leg, try balancing even more by lifting the opposite arm.

As: Keep your chest and hips still and straight toward the mat as you slowly raise one leg and the opposite arm. Stretch your arm and leg in opposite directions.

A woman practices plank pose on a yoga mat
(Photo: Rachel Land)

13. Beyond the bar with a crunch

Adding a crunch to your plank also improves hip stability by reducing your contact with the mat, but targets the opposite side of your body during leg lifts, increasing abdominal and hip flexor strength.

As: To perform a straight plank crunch, keep your torso square to the mat as you float with one leg, bend that knee and squeeze it toward the same shoulder, engaging your stomach to round your back. Repeat on the other side.

To perform a crunch, lift one leg, bend it at the knee, and bring it across your body to the opposite elbow or shoulder. This time, allow your pelvis to return to the target shoulder and contract your obliques. Repeat on the other side.

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

14. Walking in plank position

Similar to leg raises, plank walking creates lower body stability with the added challenge of movement. This trains you to use the inner and outer thigh muscles in a balanced way, which is preparation for balancing poses and transitions between standing poses.

As: Keep your pelvis level as you extend one leg wide, then the other. Then one by one, returning to hip width.

A woman practices a plank pose on a yoga mat with her heels tilted to the side
(Photo: Rachel Land)

15. Off the bar with a heel flip

Then repeat on the other side. This plank and vasisthasana (side plank) hybrid offers some of the benefits of each—it works the side of your body and outer thighs, and offers a transition option if you go from plank to side plank.

As: Keeping your pelvis level, rotate your toes so that they point to one long side of the mat and reach the edges of your feet.

A woman practices plank pose on a yoga mat in a bent-knees version
(Photo: Rachel Land)

16. Planck’s bear

This variation incorporates some of Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) by varying the work of the upper and lower body muscles. It targets arm strength in an overhead position rather than in front of the chest, and builds leg strength with bent knees instead of straight legs.

As: Bend your knees and lift your shins slightly above the grass, arms straight, ears and hips high.

A woman practices plank pose on a yoga mat with blocks under her shoulders

17. Plank with blocks under the shoulders

It’s harder than it seems! This variation forces you to rely more on your abs, hip flexors, and quads, and less on your chest and shoulders. This is especially helpful for handstanders because you need to lift the front of your body off the mat.

As: Instead of carrying the weight on your hands in the plank, rest your shoulders on the blocks.

About our contributor

Rachel Land is a Yoga Medicine instructor who offers group and individual yoga classes in Queenstown, New Zealand, and by request at practice.yogamedicine.com. Passionate about the real-world application of her anatomy and alignment studies, Rachel uses yoga to help her students build strength, stability, and mental clarity. Rachel is also the co-host of the new Yoga Medicine podcast.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *