Plank Your Way to Better Abs With These 5 Variations

The traditional ab plank is one of the all-around best ab exercises for developing a svelte midsection, a strong core, and superior posture. Unlike crunches, sit-ups, cable woodchoppers, ab v holds, hanging leg raises and the like, which primarily work the rectus abdominis (the vertical “six-pack” muscles) and obliques, planks blast the transverse abdominis.

Diagram below.


The transverse abdominis (TA), aka the “inner abs,” is the deepest abdominal layer and runs as a belt horizontally around the midsection in between the hip bone and ribs. Unlike the biceps, chest, rectus abdominis, etc., the TA muscle is invisible from the outside. Aesthetically, a strong TA won’t produce the abdominal crevices, caverns, and undulations characteristic of a six-pack, per se, but rather it sucks the midsection into a tight, compact, slender package. It’s essentially the body’s corset — a strong TA naturally compresses the girth of the stomach.

Transverse Abdominis
Want flat abs like this? Plank it up!

This is critically important. In isolation, a well-developed RA and obliques create six-pack striations and definition, but they’ll also appear bloated, loose, and bulging; strengthening the TA compresses the region and completes the holistic look. Ab planks are the most effective, most direct way to tear up the TA. If you’re someone who DOESN’T like the “six-pack” look and the block-esque abs that go with it, and simply want a flat, defined stomach (like the one on the right), the TA absolutely should be your primary point of emphasis.

In the spirit of shredding up the transverse abominis, here are 5 variations of the traditional plank that can provide variety, pump up the difficulty, and infuse new stimuli to produce a washboard caliber stomach. Add them individually into your existing ab workout routine, or combine all 5 to create one über ab-flattening plank circuit.

Plank 1


1. One Arm Ab Plank Reaches

Start in traditional plank position. Raise your right arm and reach out as far as possible in front of your body. Hold 15 seconds and repeat for your left arm. Complete 3 reps, per arm, per set (45 seconds per arm in total).
Up the difficulty, up your growth: Lift your opposite leg simultaneously as you reach out in front.

Plank 2


2. BOSU Ball Stability Planks (Black Side Up)

Flip a BOSU ball so that the hard side faces upwards. This also works with a balance board. Assume plank position with your forearms at shoulder width on top of the BOSU ball. Gently tilt your body and roll from side to side. Hold for 45 seconds.
Up the difficulty, up your growth: Stack your feet on top of each other.

Plank 3


3. Swiss Ball Decline Planks

Grab a small Swiss ball. Place your feet on top of the ball and extend outwards into full plank position. Hold for 60 seconds.
Up the difficulty, up your growth: Raise one arm into the air. Alternate every 10 seconds.

Plank 4


4. Knee To Elbow Planks

Assume push up position with your legs fully extended. Brace your abs and bring your right knee inwards towards your right elbow. Alternate legs one after another for a total of 60 seconds.
Up the difficulty, up your growth: Raise your right arm as you draw your right knee in. Repeat for the left side.

Plank 5


5. Ab V Planks

Assume push up position with your legs fully extended. Slowly slide your hands approximately 1 foot in front of your head, so that your body forms a V between your arms and legs. Hold for 60 seconds. Up the difficulty, up your growth: Slide your arms further out in front of your head to create a longer V. Eventually, reach full extension by grabbing onto a bench or stationary barbell.