I Don't Do Crunches in CrossFit, but Here Are 6 Core-Strengthening Plank Variations I Never Skip
When I started CrossFit almost four years ago, I thought it was strange that we didn't specifically work our abs. But so many of the exercises we do are full-body moves that target our core more than crunches could.
Although plank variations aren't a standard CrossFit exercise, we definitely do them often when warming up and for accessory work since planks help with core balance and strength. Engaging the core during plank variations also trains us to keep our core engaged during workouts, even when we are breathing heavy or physically challenged, which can help prevent injury. These are the six variations I do every single week.
Plank With Shoulder Tap
Why I do it: This plank variation strengthens the upper body and core, and is good practice for strengthening and balancing in handstand walks.
- Begin in a plank variation with your feet slightly wider than your hips for added stability.
- Keeping your torso stable, bring your right hand to your left shoulder, then return your right hand back to the mat.
- Bring your left hand to your right shoulder and return it to the mat. This counts as one rep.
Why I do it: Mountain climbers may be basic but when I don't feel like jumping for burpees, mountain climbers are just as effective for getting my heart rate up.
- Start in a traditional plank — shoulders over hands and weight in your toes.
- With your core engaged, bring your right knee forward under your chest, with the toes just off the ground. Return to your basic plank. Switch legs, bringing the left knee forward.
- Keep switching legs and begin to pick up the pace until it feels a little like running in place in a plank position.
Plank With Row
Why I do it: Adding weights to a plank is great for core and upper body strength.
- Start in a plank position with your legs wider than hip distance; the wider stance makes you more stable. Hold onto your dumbbells, keeping your wrist locked to protect the joint.
- With your core tight and your glutes engaged, exhale, stabilizing your torso as you lift your left elbow to row; feel your left shoulder blade sliding toward your spine as you bend your elbow up toward the ceiling.
- Keeping your neck long and energized, return the weight to the ground, and repeat the movement on your right side.
Why I do it: I often do a side plank in yoga, but I also love it before or after a CrossFit workout for core strength, and to strengthen my hands and wrists which helps with grip strength. Side planks also help build balance for handstand — I notice a big difference when I make time for side planks because it always makes it easier to hold handstand.
- Come into a plank position (the top of a push-up) and roll to your right side, allowing your feet to roll too, so you're balancing on the outside of your right foot, stacking your left foot on your right.
- Reach your left arm toward the ceiling and lift your waist away from the floor to make your obliques fire away. Press your left inner thigh up into your right inner thigh; this helps stabilize you even more.
- To take pressure off of your wrist, press your left fingertips into the floor. Perform the exercise on both sides of the body.
Reverse Plank Bridge
Why I do it: The reverse plank bridge is one of my favorite stretches for the wrists. I make sure to turn my hands both out and in while holding this stretch — it feels so good after a day of barbell work. This is also a great warm-up for the glutes.
- Begin seated with your hands behind you with your fingers pointed away from you.
- Press the heels of your feet and hands into the ground as you raise your pelvis off the floor until it is in line with your shoulders and knees.
- Lower your pelvis back to the ground to complete one rep.
Why I do it: This is a fun exercise for strengthening the upper body.
- Come into plank position with your arms and legs straight.
- Beginning with the right side first, lower your elbow to the floor where your hand was. Then lower your left elbow to the floor where your left hand was (now you are in elbow plank, with your forearms parallel).
- Then come back into the starting plank position onto your right hand and then back onto your left. This completes one rep. Perform the exercise on both sides of the body.