Planks can be a good choice in certain situations but for many people, there are more effective alternatives. Find out what these are.
The main benefits of planks come from the isometric (static) ab and hip flexor workout they offer. This can be helpful if you find more dynamic ab exercises uncomfortable on your spine.
That being said, you may not enjoy planks, prefer more effective ab exercises, or want an exercise substitute for other reasons.
In these cases, one of the alternatives to planks below can help you train similar muscles. Often in a more effective way.
You do still want to keep in mind that some of these could feel uncomfortable on your spine. You want to be careful when doing these plank alternatives and potentially talk to an expert first.
1. Bicycle crunches
Similar to many of the other plank alternatives on this list, a yoga mat or other soft surface can make bicycle crunches a lot more comfortable.
Besides that, this exercise does require slightly more coordination but its results could be worth the extra effort. Take the following steps to do two repetitions of bicycle crunches:
- 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.
Keep your movements slow and controlled to get in a good workout. 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 make it slightly more convenient to do and potentially more comfortable on your lower back.
That aside, you likely want to hold some type of weight in your hands to make side bends challenging enough. Once you have that, take the following steps to do the exercise:
- 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.
Planks mostly work your abs but you also get some extent of oblique muscle engagement.
The side bend does not look that impressive but with enough weight, it can be a helpful plank alternative to really focus on your obliques.
3. Reverse crunches
Take the following steps to do a reverse crunch:
- 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 toward your chest while keeping your hips and knees at 90-degree angles. 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 targeting the lower part of your abs in a dynamic way.
You also get less oblique muscle engagement which can be a good or bad thing depending on your training goals.
If you also want the oblique training, you can do a sideways reverse crunch where 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.
Take the following steps to do a plank toe touch:
- 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.
Many people don’t want to go lower than making a straight line with their bodies.
Additionally, the more dynamic spine movements undo some of the isometric benefits of the regular plank. If you start with this type of dynamic exercise, you may prefer other movements.
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 V-roll is a variation of the regular ab wheel rollout for working your oblique muscles more at home or in the gym on top of the regular ab engagement.
Because of their more dynamic nature and bigger load, this plank alternative tends to offer a more time-efficient workout.
Take the following steps to do an ab wheel knee V-roll:
- 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 in step 3.
If you do this exercise right the ab wheel should draw an imaginary V-shape on the ground.
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 needing any equipment.
Take the following steps to do a lying opposite toe touch:
- 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 position in step 2 in a controlled motion.
- Reach with your other hand to the opposite foot in a similar way.
- Return to the position 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 you engage your oblique muscles more.
You can also do regular forward lying toe touches. This will mainly target your ab muscles and less your obliques.
At the same time, it can still be smart to implement extra weights to see more and faster results.
7. Russian twists
The Russian twist is an exercise that works a variety of muscles in your core. This can make it a good alternative to planks.
Take the following steps to do two Russian twist repetitions:
- Sit down on your butt and your feet flat on the ground.
- Raise your legs slightly so that they hove in the air. Tilt your upper body back to about a 45-angle to the ground and keep your spine straight throughout the exercise
- Rotate your upper body as far as comfortable to one side.
- Do the same to the other side.
Even if you are really careful to not twist too far, Russian twists could not be for you.
People with any back, neck, or shoulder issues likely want to pass on this exercise.
That aside, Russian twists work your ab muscles in an isometric (static) way and your obliques in an isotonic (dynamic way).
Depending on how strong you are in each area, you could see grow and strength results in one or both of these muscles.
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.