There are many movements that can help you get in shape. Find out how to do dolphin planks, what muscles they work, and whether you should do them
To do a dolphin plank, you start in the regular plank position, lift your hips as far as comfortable, and lower your hips back into starting position.
Similar to regular planks, the dolphin version mainly works your abs and hip flexors (and obliques to some extent).
By adding the hip movements, you make the exercise just a bit more effective for growing and strengthening these muscles. Additionally, you burn a few extra calories and add some flexibility training.
One potential downside of dolphin planks is that there are not many good ways to make the bodyweight version harder. This means individuals with a stronger core may find this movement too easy to see results.
Even if you have something like a weighted vest to make dolphin planks more challenging, there are more effective exercise alternatives for growing and strengthening your abs, hip flexors, and obliques.
How to do a dolphin plank
Take the following steps to do a dolphin plank:
- Start in a plank position. This means leaning on your forearms, with your body in a straight line from your heels to the top of your head, and the front parts of your feet on the ground.
- Slowly raise your hips as far as comfortable or until your upper arms reach your head. Keep your forearms and feet on the ground.
- Lower your hips back into starting position in a controlled motion.
You want to focus on keeping your movements slow and controlled. This will help you really engage your abs and hip flexors and help you avoid lowering your hips too far.
Besides that, you can do dolphin planks in different ways to focus on different muscles.
If you keep your spine straight, you will mostly work your hip flexors with the additional hip movements.
Another option is really moving your chest toward your hips with the help of your ab muscles.
Dolphin plank stepping stones
It is possible that you are not able to do a full dolphin plank (yet). There are a few other exercises you can start with to work up to the full version.
Which ones will be the best choice depends on what is holding you back from doing full dolphin planks.
If your abs are not strong enough for dolphin planks you can start with plank progressions like regular planks and knee dolphin planks or more standard ab exercises like crunches, reverse crunches, and sit-ups.
To strengthen your hip flexors you can do standing knee raises in a controlled way.
Strengthening your shoulder muscles with something like front raises could help you do dolphin planks too.
Muscles worked with dolphin planks
Most movements, especially compound core exercises like dolphin planks, work a variety of muscles at the same time. However, only a few of these will be responsible for the main movements.
The primary muscles you work with dolphin planks are your abs and hip flexors. Your oblique and shoulder muscles may have to work to a nice amount too.
Besides these, muscles like your glutes (butt) and quadriceps (front thighs) may have to work a small amount too.
To grow and strengthen these muscles you have to work them with the right amounts of resistance, repetitions, and sets.
This starts a variety of internal processes that can repair the muscles and make them stronger over time.
One downside of dolphin planks is that they work your muscles in a relatively isometric (static) way. This is generally less effective than more dynamic resistance exercises for building muscles.
Additionally, it is hard to make bodyweight dolphin planks more challenging. This means people with strong abs and hip flexors may find this exercise too easy to see results.
Even if dolphin planks are initially challenging enough, as you get stronger, this may stop being the case.
For these reasons, many alternative exercises can be more effective for growing and strengthening your abs and obliques.
Dolphin plank benefits
Even though they are not the most effective exercise out there, doing dolphin planks can still offer valuable benefits. A few examples include:
- Stronger muscles: Dolphin planks are still a resistance training exercise that can help you strengthen a few muscles.
- Can help with losing weight: Dolphin planks are not the most effective for weight loss but they do help you burn more calories and potentially help you build some muscle. These effects are helpful, but no guarantee, for losing weight.
- Improves mood: Moving more intensely by doing something like dolphin planks can improve your mood through a variety of internal processes.
- No equipment or location required: Unless you have strong ab muscles, you only need your body to do dolphin planks. This makes it so you can do them in many places and without having to invest in equipment.
- Improves sleep: Exercises like dolphin planks can improve the quality and duration of your sleep. This positively influences many other areas of your health.
- Slows down aging: While they won’t change how many years passed since you were born, exercises like dolphin planks can slow down the progress of certain markers of aging.
- May reduce or prevent back pain: Core strengthening exercises like dolphin planks can reduce or prevent back pain (1, 2). If you currently struggle with pain in this area you do want to be careful and potentially talk to an expert first.
- Balance & coordination: Dolphin planks can be somewhat challenging in areas like balance and coordination. This could improve your skills in these areas.
There are definitely exercises that are more effective than dolphin planks in some of these areas.
That being said, it is still amazing how adding an exercise to your routine can benefit your life.
Something to note is that some people may find dolphin planks challenging for body areas like their back, elbows, hips, shoulders, and neck. Even when using the right technique.
If you are weak in these areas, you want to be careful and potentially start with other strengthening exercises before turning to dolphin planks.
Especially if you have any back pain, you may want to talk to an expert before doing more dolphin planks.
Experiencing any pain during the exercise could be a sign you are overdoing it. This could mean you need more rest, better lifestyle habits, less of certain types of exercise, or that dolphin planks are not for you (yet).
Dolphin plank alternatives
Dolphin planks are not the only exercise that can help you strengthen your ab and hip flexor muscles. Some alternatives with similar effects include:
- Ab wheel roll-outs
- Plank toe touches
- Bicycle crunches
- Knee raises
- Reverse crunches
- Leg raises on the captain’s chair
- Other plank variations
What alternatives are the best for you depends on details like your training goals, personal situation, workout equipment collections, etc.
Doing dolphin planks will offer benefits to many people. Mostly in terms of ab and hip flexor growth and strength increases.
At the same time, there are likely more effective exercise alternatives for your training goals too. This especially applies to people who are more experienced with core training.
Even if you want to stick to dolphin planks, you likely need to make the movement more challenging soon to keep seeing muscle growth and strength progress.
Something you do want to keep in mind is that you have to stay consistent with your exercise routine to get the benefits.
You may like doing dolphin planks and find exercise routines with them easier to stick to.
In that case, you can still consider choosing this exercise.
If you don’t have a specific preference for dolphin planks, you likely want to choose one of the more effective exercise alternatives.
Lastly, no matter whether you choose dolphin planks or other resistance training exercises, you want to make sure you consume enough nutrients and give your body enough rest and sleep.