The plank exercise can offer many benefits but you may want other options. What are some alternatives to planks with similar benefits?
Planks are a popular core exercise where you keep your body in a straight line off the ground while leaning only on your forearms and feet. While this exercise offers some other benefits to a certain extent, planks are mainly done to strengthen muscles like abs and obliques.
Whether you don’t enjoy planks, you want a more back-friendly alternative, more offective core exercises, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these alternatives to planks can help you train similar muscles.
Keep in mind that even though there are upsides, like any exercise there is always some risk of injury. Especially if you have a sensitive back you want to be careful when doing the plank alternatives and implement a good technique. When in doubt talk to an expert.
1. Bicycle crunches
This first plank alternative requires slightly more coordination but its effectiveness is worth the extra effort. To do two repetitions of bicycle crunches take the following steps:
- Lie down on your back with a 90-degree angle in both your hips and knees. Hold your hands against the side of your head with your elbows pointing sideways.
- Raise your shoulders and push your lower back against the ground with the help of your ab muscles.
- Slightly turn your upper body to one side and reach with your elbow to the knee of the opposite side (for example your left elbow to your right knee) while stretching the leg of the side of the elbow you use while still keeping it off the ground (continuing the example stretching your left leg).
- Bring the stretched leg back into the starting position and repeat with the other side. Keep your shoulders off the ground during the exercise.
For a good core workout keep your movements slow and controlled. If you don’t feel your obliques and abs fatiguing your bicycle crunch technique can likely use some improvement.
Because bicycle crunches are more dynamic than planks they can strengthen your core more in a short amount of time. It is also relatively easy to do weighted bicycle crunches. This can speed up results even more.
2. Side bends
The next exercise is a standing alternative to the plank exercise. This can also make it slightly more lower back friendly. To make side bends challenging enough your preferably want to hold some type of weight in your hands. To do a side bend take the following steps:
- Start standing up with your feet shoulder-width apart, an upright posture, one arm hanging by your side with a dumbbell in your hand, and the hand of the other hand behind your head. Let gravity do its work on the hanging arm so it points downward.
- Slowly tilt your body sideways so that the dumbbell moves down as far as you comfortably can.
- Return your body to starting position and do the same number of repetitions with a dumbbell in the other hand.
The side bend may not look very impressive but it can be a helpful plank alternative to focus on your obliques.
3. Reverse crunches
To do a reverse crunch take the following steps:
- Lie down on your back with a 90-degree angle in both your hips and knees. Your arms start resting on the ground at 90 degrees out from your shoulders or just next to you for stability.
- Slowly move your knees towards your chest while keeping your hips and knees in a 90-degree angle. To do this your hips and lower back will come off the ground. Stop right before the middle of your back would come off the ground too.
- Lower your lower back, hips, and legs back into starting position in a controlled motion.
The reverse crunch variation where you go in a straight line with your knees can be a good plank alternative for only focusing on your abs and less on your obliques.
If you also want the oblique training, you can do a sideways reverse crunch. In this variation you bring one knee to the chest of the opposite side. After that, you repeat the same but with the other knee to avoid muscle imbalances.
4. Plank toe touches
Plank toe touches are a more dynamic plank variation. This can make the exercise more fun and more interesting compared to a regular plank. To do a plank toe touch take the following steps:
- Start in the high plank position. This means on your hands and front feet with stretched arms and a stretched body.
- Lift your hips and at the same time reach with one hand to the foot of the other side as far as comfortable.
- Return to starting position and repeat with the hand on the other side.
One downside of plank toe touches is that it is easy to dip too much with your hips which can cause negative effects, especially if you have lower back issues. Try not to go lower than making a straight line with your body.
5. Ab wheel V-rolls
The ab wheel is a small and inexpensive piece of oblique exercise equipment that is a wheel with two handles. It may not look like much but ab wheel exercises can offer a great ab and oblique workout.
The data from one study even suggests that a regular ab wheel roll-out is a more effective alternative than more standard exercises like sit-ups and crunches for engaging oblique muscles (1). A V-roll is even more effective for engaging your oblique muscles at home.
Similarly, ab wheel V-rolls are a plank alternative that can off your more results in shorter workouts. To do an ab wheel knee V-roll take the following steps:
- Start with your face facing the floor on your knees and with your hands on the ab wheel.
- Stretch your hips so that your body is in a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
- Roll forward and to one side in a controlled motion, preferably until your stomach is right above the ground.
- Slowly roll back into the position of step 2.
- Roll forward and to the opposite side as step 3.
If you do this exercise right the ab wheel should draw an imaginary V-shape on the ground. By using the ab wheel this way you target your oblique muscles more than in regular knee roll-outs.
If you are more of a beginner you can start with smaller distances instead of until your stomach is right above the ground. The V-roll is only one option. If you like using the ab wheel there are many other exercises to choose from.
6. Lying opposite toe touches
The lying opposite toe touch is a simple yet powerful exercise to engage your oblique muscles at home without necessarily any equipment. To do a lying opposite toe touch take the following steps.
- Lie down on your back with your legs stretched and right next to each other on the ground.
- Move up your legs to ideally a vertical line. If your hamstrings are tight it will be more of a steep angle. Go as far as you comfortably can while keeping your lower back on the ground. Point your arms vertically upward too.
- Slowly lift your upper body to reach with one hand to the foot of the opposite side as far as comfortable. Make sure you use your abs and obliques and not the momentum of your arms to do this movement.
- Return to the posision in step 2 in a controlled motion.
- Reach with your other hand to the opposite foot in a similar way.
- Return to the posision in step 2 in a controlled motion.
While you don’t need equipment for this plank alternative, holding extra weights in your hands can help with engaging your oblique muscles more.
You can also do regular forward lying toe touches. This will mainly target your ab muscles and less your obliques.
7. Russian twists
The Russian twist is a core exercise that involves twisting. Because of this, Russian twists engage a wide variety of core muscles like your abs and obliques. In short, a great possible alternative to planks. To do two Russian twist repetitions take the following steps:
- You start sitting down on the ground with your legs bent at the knees and your feet hovering above the ground. Make sure your back is straight and at about a 45-degree angle with the ground.
- Slightly twist your upper body to one side and then the other.
- Return to starting position.
Make sure you don’t twist too far and keep your back straight to avoid any injuries. Even with the right technique Russian twists are not for everyone. If you have any back, neck, or shoulder issues you likely want to pass on this exercise.
To make Russian twists weighted you can hold weights like dumbbells, a weight plate, a medicine ball, any compact and heavy objects you can find at home, etc. to make them more challenging.