If you haven’t nailed the basic plank position then I don’t know what you are waiting for! It’s one of the best exercises you can do to strengthen your core and it’s something that I ensure everyone who walks into a studio to train with me is aware of.
If you’ve already checked out the 4 plank variations I posted and you’re looking for more advanced core exercises to add to your workout routines, then I’ve got your back.
And, don’t be put off if you’ve not yet built the core strength that you dream of; using time as the basis for doing these exercises means that they are suitable core exercises for all levels! All just using your bodyweight with no equipment needed.
So the 3 core drills I have for you are:
- plank with leg lift
- slow mountain climbers
- 90 degree abs
But before we get down to business, let’s cover a few important points about core engagement and control…
How Do You Strengthen A Weak Core?
You need to start with learning the proper engagement of your core. Remember that your core is not the same as what is commonly known as “abs”. Your core muscles are the deep muscles which provide stability rather than movement for your spine and therefore your torso.
Think about it; a sit up, where you curl your torso towards your thighs isn’t working your core muscle… nor is it functional. So ditch the sit ups and work with these plank variations.
When you hold a plank correctly, it’s not just your core that is engaged. Your legs, glutes, shoulders… should all be working too.
How To Engage Your Core Properly
When you lay flat on your back you have to tuck your belly button towards the ground while sustaining a neutral posture. To test if you are doing it right, after engagement of your deep core musculature you should have some space between your lumbar spine/lower back and the surface you are laying on.
If you have no space it is very likely that you are tensing your abs instead. Once you’ve nailed the whole core engagement thing correctly, it then applies to any and every exercise you do, including the plank.
Fit Kit I’m Loving:
Drill 1. Plank With Leg Lift
- Beginner – 30 secs, alternating legs
- Intermediate – 45 secs, alternating legs
- Advanced – 1 minute, alternating legs
Starting in a forearm plank position, elbows directly under shoulders, neutral back and weight over shoulders. From here, ensure you engage your core muscles described above.
Lift one foot off the ground, no higher than hip height the return the foot to the start position as controlled as you can.
Focus on maintain a neutral spine and keeping your hips stable and parallel to the ground.
Repeat on the other leg, alternating for the designated time.
Drill 2. Slow Mountain Climbers
- Beginner – 15 secs on each leg
- Intermediate – 30 secs on each leg
- Advanced – 45 secs on each leg
Start in high plank position with hands directly under shoulders, engaging your core as described above.
Slowly bring one knee towards your chest then drive back to the start position. Each time you bring your knee to your chest, you can add some load on your abs by squeezing your knee even closer to your chest which creates a small pelvis tilt.
Repeat on the other side.
Up the burn?! To make this more challenging you can do one leg at a time, and not place your foot back on the ground. Also the slower you go, the more challenging it becomes.
Drill 3. 90 Degree Abs
- Beginner – 30 secs, alternating sides
- Intermediate – 45 secs, alternating sides
- Advanced – 60 secs, alternating sides
Start in high plank position with hands directly under shoulders, feet together, engaging your core as described above.
Drive your left knee towards your chest then rotate your hips to drop your left side towards the ground. As you kick your left leg across your body to the right side, straightening the leg and try to keep your foot away from the ground.
With control, return your left leg towards your chest and back to the start position. Repeat on the other side.
Too much, too soon?! If you need to reduce the challenge of this drill you can either a) tap your foot down when you rotate and kick your leg out or b) rotate without kicking and straightening your leg then when you feel confident and strong enough you can add that back in.
Okay, so there you have it! Three great advanced core exercises to add to your workout repertoire. Before we go though, there is one thing I get asked a lot in my classes…
Can A Weak Core Cause Back Pain?
Now that is a very good question! When it comes to back pain there is research that says* that core strengthening has no significant impact on lower back pain in the long run for the general population, however, there are many more research findings that states otherwise.
Lifestyle factors such as being seated for long proportions of each day are likely to cause back pain no matter how strong your core is.
However, for those of you that are regularly active having a strong core is big advantage as you are able to sustain a neutral posture and are able to support your spine more efficiently especially when performing compound exercises such as deadlifts, squats or other olympic lifts.
Get The Kit:
A Quick Advanced Core Workout Routine
Here’s an AMRAP (As Many Rounds As Possible) you can try:
- 10 squat jumps
- 20 bicycle crunches (slow and controlled)
- 30 plank with leg lifts (15 each side)
- 30 kettlebell swings
- 30 slow mountain climbers
- 5 burpees
- 10 90 degree abs (5 each side)
- 20seconds plank
Put 4 minutes on the clock for each round and see how many rounds you can complete in the time. Give yourself one minutes rest between each round and you’ve got yourself a quick and effective 15 minute core workout routine.
Let me know if you give all of these advanced plank variations or the workout a go and what you think. Here’s to maintaining a strong core!
p.s Safety always comes first. If you are new to exercise ensure you seek advice from your GP. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids, wear appropriate clothing and carry out drills in a suitable space. Technique is paramount, and nothing should hurt. Should you experience pain, discomfort, nausea, dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath etc, STOP and consult your GP.
Kimberly Hatting says
I do planks every morning, but have not experimented much with varying the position (I usually do a 2:30 forearm plank). Great suggestions!
Thanks Kimberly! Variety is the spice of life as they say 🙂
I haven’t tried a plank with a leg lift yet so I will give that a go next time to see how it feels. It’s probably not as easy as it sounds!
It’s great for taking your mind off the work your core is doing and getting a little glute burn going!