If practiced safely, shoulderstand (salamba sarvangasana) offers a plentitude of benefits—including promoting thyroid function, restoring your legs through the inversion, and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system to calm you.Read more
Holding a plank position may be a well-known and effective way to strengthen your core, but it doesn’t have to be as boring as you might think. Sure, a certain appeal exists to holding a plank for new length of time, and it’s hard to not feel strong when you’ve just held a plank for a minute longer than usual. (In college, I held my forearm plank for a personal record of 6:22. Before you get too impressed, my little brother regularly holds 30+ minute planks.) Whether you are trying planks for the first time or adding more time to your already stable plank, here are ideas to spice up this go-to core move.
I recommend doing planks on your forearms with hands clasped, rather than on your palms, as this helps take stress out of your shoulders and lets you concentrate more on your core. Be sure your bum is low and in line with your shoulders. Use a mirror or a friend to periodically check on your form.
1. Leg lifts. From your forearm plank, gently lift one leg then the other to “walk out” your legs. No need to lift your legs super high—even just a couple inches is very effective. Prioritize quality of movement. Repeat 10-20 times or for up to a minute.
2. Dolphin plank. In your forearm plank, inhale to send your nose over your clasped hands. Keep hips low. On your next exhale, send hips up and back, sink back and press through your heels, coming backwards into the starting plank position. Continue this motion of inhaling nose forward over hands, exhaling hips up and back to return to start. Notice that this is one plank where your hips do come up, rather than remaining in line with the rest of your body the entire time. Repeat for 5-10 rounds, or up to a minute.
3. Dolphin plank with leg lift.
This is a more advanced variation of a regular dolphin plank. As you inhale forward, reach one leg high to the sky. As you exhale back, return your leg back to the plank position. With this leg lift, try extending leg as high as you can. Repeat 3-6 rounds per side, alternating legs. Be sure to use your breath to help you move.
4. Ninja plank. This plank is usually more accessible on your palms just since you’ll have more room to move your legs towards your arms. Begin on your palms, being sure to keep good form with hips in line with the rest of your body. On an exhale, bring your right knee to gently tap your right elbow. Inhale to send leg back to starting position. Repeat on second side. Prioritize quality rather than speed of movement. Repeat for 10-15 rounds per side. This is a great “grande finale” to your plank series, but it also works well when integrated into the “plank on palms” segment of the series below. Enjoy!
5. Combine your plank skills for a mini yoga flow!: begin in forearm plank cycle: [sphinx pose to forearm plank with hands unclasped to plank on palms].
a. Begin in your usual forearm plank with hands clasped. Mindfully lower your body to the floor, then position your elbows directly under shoulders with palms forward and planted on your mat. Tops of feet are released down on the mat. This is sphinx pose! Gently press your chest forward and pull your elbows in towards your belly button to open up your front body.
b. On an exhale, tuck your toes back under to press up to a forearm plank—for this one, keep palms extended forward just as they are, rather than clasped. Pause and breathe here. Try a few leg lifts if you like, keeping bum low.
c. Inhale to press up through your right palm, exhale to press up through your left palm. You are now on both palms in a plank. Press into all ten fingers, but especially thumb and forefinger of each hand. Gently send shoulder blades a little wider on your back. Pause and breathe here. Again try a few leg lifts if you like.
d. On an exhale, mindfully lower all the way back to the floor. Set up your sphinx pose—this also acts as a nice rest period—and then cycle through to this forearm plank variation and palm plank for 2-3 more rounds.
Plank, while a relatively simple exercise, offers plentiful options for introducing creativity into your ab and core routine. Once you are comfortable with dolphin plank, you can even add that to the concluding plank-based yoga flow described in number 5. Planks and other core moves are also a great add-on to the end of a cardio or strength workout. Next time you come in from a run, try one or all of these!