The Men’s Health 30-Day Plank Challenge

Planks might bore you.

That’s fine. You might also think of the staple core exercise as an opportunity in your workout to take a breather from high-intensity moves, or as a chance to try to outlast a ticking countdown or a friend, holding the rigid position until your shoulders ache and your hips sag.

In either case, you’re approaching the plank the wrong way. The simple bodyweight move is a valuable training tool, both to strengthen your core and to reinforce solid postural cues that will transfer to other exercises and your day-to-day life.

The plank isn’t just about your abs, after all. It’s about your whole core, and more. That’s one of the reasons why you shouldn’t expect results from holding the position for minutes on end (or hours, if you’re looking to break a record). “The plank is the most basic of exercises, and challenges you to keep core and glutes tight,” says Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. “But its usefulness expires once you can hold a plank for a minute.”

You could work to hold your plank for marathon session, and that’s what your average plank challenge will push you to do. Except you’ve been there, done that—and pushing your plank time up doesn’t really make your abs that much stronger.

To do a plank the right way, you need to focus on creating full body tension for the duration of the hold. Remember these cues (and follow this guide for more detailed instruction):

If you follow these cues to the letter, you’ll have a hard time staying in position for more than a few seconds, let alone minutes. To hold a plank for a long time, you have to diminish tension, not create it. That’s just a waste of effort.

This month, you’ll explore the plank differently, doing 30 different plank variations and challenging yourself to create full-body tension in a variety of ways. You’ll start with basic moves, then challenge your core to stabilize your body against rotation, extension, and other external forces.

By the end of the month, the plank won’t be a challenge at all. Instead, it’ll simply be a starting position that pushes you to create tension while you train other muscles. The best part of this challenge: You’ll spend less than 60 seconds a day in each variation. You’re not beating boredom in our 30-day challenge; you’re using plank to further all the functions of your abs and core.

30-Day Plank Challenge Week 1

Within Week 1, we’ll break down the Plank Challenge program structure you’ll follow throughout the entire period. Each day is dedicated to a specific principle that will help you build up your core in a targeted, intelligent manner. For the first week, we’ll learn the basics, with a few quick twists.

Hold a Plank

You’ll start each week by simply holding a plank for 30 to 45 seconds. This is the classic isometric plank contraction you’re familiar with—but remember the objective. You’re not trying to hold it for minutes on end, essentially sacrificing tension so you can “survive” for longer. Your goal is to max yourself out in 45 seconds because you’re creating that much isometric force.

▼ Day 1: Basic Plank

3 sets of 30 seconds

Don’t think about time here—think about tension. Make every second count by squeezing your glutes and core.

Learn Anti-Extension

Start exploring how your core functions on each second day. One key function of your abs is to prevent your lower back and spine from arching, something known as spinal “extension.” When your abs flex, they counter that extension. Training this through planks makes you stronger in everything from overhead pressing to, yes, doing more planks, too.

▼ Day 2: Extended Plank

3 sets of 30 seconds

Reach your arms out here, and place your palms flat on the floor. Keep the same basic plank cues in mind. It’s okay to break before 30 seconds, if necessary.

Manage Rotation

Another key core function: Your abs rotate your torso. They also help you resist all rotation (known as “anti-rotation”). Train both ideas every third day, building a stronger plank and teaching your core muscles how to handle rotation while still maintaining full tension.

▼ Day 3: Plank Thread the Needle

3 sets of 30 seconds per side

Own the rotation here by moving deliberately instead of rushing. Don’t worry about how many reps you finish; focus on the quality of your movement instead.

Polish Spinal Flexion

Your abs help you flex your spine (as you do in situps). So take a break from the constant core rigidity of most planks and mix in some spinal flexion to build total abdominal strength.

▼ Day 4: Alternating Plank Toe-Touch

3 sets of 30 seconds

Get up on your hands in a pushup position, then hinge to raise your butt before you reach. Own the plank for a count before each rep, and try to avoid rounding your back.

Hit Your Side

The classic side plank builds oblique strength and challenges your core to stabilize in the a slightly different way, working across something called the frontal plane. Attack these every fifth day for well-rounded core strength.

▼ Day 5: Side Plank

3 sets of 30 seconds per side

Raise up on one elbow at a time, but keep the standard plank cues to create tension, too. If you struggle to maintain the position for the full 30 seconds, shorten your lever by putting your knees on the ground.

Go Time

A plank doesn’t need to go nowhere—but it can. Every sixth day, you’ll either load the plank in some way, working with weights. Or you’ll crawl, challenging overall movement while maintaining a tight core.

▼ Day 6: Mountain Climber

3 sets of 30 seconds

Focus on the knee drive for each step, rather than burning out as many reps as possible during the period. Keep tension at the top so your core reaps the benefits.

Have Some Fun

End the week by mixing things up. Every seventh day, you’ll work through a plank that makes you think and reconsider how to tighten your core. And on the very last day of the challenge, you’ll prove complete plank dominance with an uncooked egg (or drop the egg and have to clean up a mess).

▼ Day 7: Iron Cross Plank

3 sets of 30 seconds

This might be particularly tough for beginners. If that’s the case, break up the sets into smaller pieces, and really emphasize creating tension in the position.

30-Day Plank Challenge Week 2

Start to push yourself a bit more. Focus on controlling rotation.

▼ Day 1: Bear Plank

3 sets of 30 to 45 seconds

Instead of a long lever, you’ll bend your knees and get on your toes, as if you’re going to begin bear crawling. Still squeeze you core and glutes, and keep your back flat, like the standard version of the plank.

▼ Day 2: Extended Plank

3 sets of 45 seconds

We did this last week—now, try to hold on for longer while maintaining the same level of tension.

▼ Day 3: Plank Shoulder-Tap

3 sets of 45 seconds

Stay balanced as you move deliberately from one hand to the other. Again, your focus should be less on the number of reps as it is on the quality of your movements.

▼ Day 4: Plank Knee Drive

3 sets of 45 seconds

Think of this as the mountain climber in super slow-mo. Tap your elbows with your knees at each rep, if you can—but don’t knock yourself over.

▼ Day 5: Rolling Plank

3 sets of 45 seconds

Move deliberately each time you shift sides, making sure to pause for a full second in the top position. Don’t allow your butt to sag when you return to neutral.

▼ Day 6: Plank Up-Down to Double-Knee-Drive

3 sets of 45 seconds

Take every step at a time here: alternating knee drive with both legs, raise up to pushup position, alternating knee drive, lower back to plank. Don’t rush.

▼ Day 7: Bear Crawl Quick-Step

3 sets of 45 seconds

Add movement to the bear plank position. Do so deliberately; focus on lifting and moving your foot and opposite hand at the same time.

30-Day Plank Challenge Week 3

How’s your balance? That’s the challenge this week. You can survive all these moves. Your goal: Tighten your core so much you make them look easy.

▼ Day 1: Side Plank

3 sets of 45 seconds

We’re stretching out the time for the second round of side planks. Don’t let your level of tension flag.

▼ Day 2: Plank Alternating Reach

3 sets of 45 seconds

Focus on your standard plank, then double down on keeping your torso square as you reach. Don’t rush these reps.

▼ Day 3: Side Plank Thread the Needle

3 sets of 45 seconds per side

Let’s take this Week 1 principle and flip it on its side. Emphasize the rotation, moving under control, and pause for a count at the top on each rep.

▼ Day 4: Plank Double-Toe-Touch

3 sets of 45 seconds

You’ve done a single-toe-touch, now spend some more time in the top position and reach across to tap the other foot, too. Just don’t round your back, and come to a one count stop to reset in plank each time.

▼ Day 5: Side Plank Knee to Elbow

3 sets of 45 seconds per side

This side plank variation demands that you maintain proper posture throughout, even as your drive your knee up and reach your elbow down. Avoid bending your spine to make the touch.

▼ Day 6: Plank Up-Down to Double-Knee-Drive

3 sets of 45 seconds

You’ve done this challenging variation already. Like last week, focus in on moving with intention—try holding each step for an extra count to emphasize the squeeze.

▼ Day 7: Bear Plank to Plank

3 sets of 45 seconds

Start in the bear position, slowly step one foot back, then the other so that you’re in a standard plank. As you transition, your hips should stay at the same height—don’t let yourself dip down at all.

30-Day Plank Challenge Week 4

Go all-out this week with a mix of planks that utilize weights—and a few favorites from past weeks, too.

▼ Day 1: Copenhagen Plank

3 sets of 45 seconds per side

You’ll need a platform (a box, bench, or couch will do) to prop yourself up on one leg for this elevated side variation. Work to keep your glutes and core engaged throughout.

▼ Day 2: Plank Row Hold

3 sets of 45 seconds per side

For this move, you’ll need to grab a weight (or water bottle, or even just clench your fist in position). Don’t just hold the weight—squeeze your back muscles to stay engaged the whole time.

▼ Day 3: Plank Pull Through

3 sets of 45 seconds per side

Use the same weight from yesterday, this time with it on the ground. As you move the implement from side to side, focus on keeping your torso square.

▼ Day 4: Plank Knee to Elbow

3 sets of 45 seconds per side

Drive your knees up, but don’t sacrifice your posture to touch your elbow on each rep. Move within your own range of motion.

▼ Day 5: Side Plank Thread the Needle

3 sets of 60 seconds per side

You’ve done this before—so let’s add some extra time to make this even more challenging. Since you’re working for longer, emphasize the top position of the side plank even more.

▼ Day 6: Cat-Cow to Bear Plank to Plank

3 sets of 60 seconds

There are three distinct phases of this exercise, so make sure to give them each their due. Pause for a count before shifting from one to the next, and, importantly, breathe.

▼ Day 7: Single-Arm, Single-Leg Plank

3 sets of 60 seconds

If you rush this movement, you’ll wind up on the floor. Lift your legs and arms simultaneously, hold for a count, then lower down together.

30-Day Plank Challenge Week 5

Finish things off with three ultra-challenging planks—and try not to make a mess on the very last day.

▼ Day 1: Copenhagen Plank Rear Delt Raise

Grab your platform and add a weight (if you can). When you lower your arm down, make sure to brace to keep your torso upright.

▼ Day 2: Bear Plank Knee to Elbow

3 sets of 60 seconds

As always, your goal is to keep your back flat enough that you could balance a plate on top. Keep your movements controlled so you can do that.

▼ Day 3: Plank Egg-Toss Challenge

3 sets of 60 seconds

Grab an egg out of your fridge to raise the stakes on this final day (or bonus day, if you’re sticking to a 30-day calendar). You’ll need to use all of the balance, bracing, and focus you’ve honed throughout the challenge to avoid making a mess.

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