Plank alternatives are a great way to honor your body. While we don’t have a problem with planks here at Lindywell, we love them, we also recognize that this type of exercise isn’t for everyone.
Planks can be difficult or downright painful if you struggle with chronic shoulder, wrist, or back pain. They can also be extremely challenging on your body if you’re still building strength, recovering from an injury, or moving through the postpartum journey.
While planks are a great exercise, there are many other Pilates exercises that will help you build core strength. Since we at Lindywell are big fans of change, I want to share some of them many plank alternatives you can use to strengthen your core and surrounding muscles.
First, I want to talk about the importance of core strength throughout life. Then we’ll go through 10 Pilates exercises that will support those core muscles at any age.
Why you need a strong core at all stages of life
Basic durability is not about surface-level aesthetics. The benefit of exercising your abs (and surrounding areas) at every stage of life is maintaining strength and functionality as you get older, whether you’re 21 or 81.
A recent study from the European Review of Aging and Physical Activity examined the effects of core stability exercises on older women with chronic pain and found the following results:
- Increased dynamic balance and postural control
- Reduction of pain intensity and limitation of movement
- Increased ability to perform everyday tasks with ease
- Increase in motor function and muscle endurance
As someone with scoliosis, I have found that focusing on my core strength with daily Pilates has made an incredible difference in my ability to manage and reduce my neck and back pain. It has also been instrumental in my pregnancies, births and recovery.
No matter how your body feels or your age, core strength equals stability. This, in turn, improves healthy movement patterns and balance, so you can move with less pain and strain, and with more freedom and ease.
10 exercises to build core strength if planks aren’t for you
Many of the exercises we do in Pilates build core strength, even if they don’t look like traditional “AB exercises.” So if you’re looking for plank alternatives to keep your body strong and stable, we’ve got ten versatile Pilates exercises for you to try.
Start your free 14-day Lindywell trial for instant access to all these exercises, plus 250+ Pilates workouts, so you can build strength that supports you at every age and stage of life.
Lie on your back with your legs extended on the mat. Raise your arms up by your ears, inhale as you lift your head, neck and chest off the mat.
Exhale as you continue to roll, reaching forward beyond your toes. Think of holding a beach ball in your lap as you stretch forward to create a rounded shape with your spine; stretch forward over the legs as opposed to down toward the ground. Inhale from the top and as you exhale lower down to the mat one spine at a time. Repeat 8-10 times.
Change prompt. Bend your knees slightly as you twist and place your hands behind your hips to help control your movement as you build strength to fully express the exercise.
Lie on your back with your knees bent at a 90 degree angle (i.e. tabletop position). Interlace your hands behind your head and keep your elbows in your peripheral vision.
To prepare, inhale as you exhale, tuck your chin toward your chest and lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the mat. Keep your abs drawn in toward your spine and return to the starting position. Repeat 8-10 times.
Change prompt. Place both feet on the ground rather than keeping them on the table as you lift your chest.
Lie on your back with your left leg stretched out long on the mat and your right leg up toward the sky. Place your hands down by your side. Pull your abs in toward your spine to maintain a stable pelvis. Step your right foot over the midline and draw a large circle, returning to the starting position. Draw 8-10 circles in each direction, focusing on keeping your pelvis stable as your hip bone rotates in your hip socket. Repeat on the other side.
Change prompt. Bend the supporting leg and pivot leg slightly, rather than fully extending it, to give your core more stability.
Single leg stretch
Lie on your back with your arms at your sides and a neutral spine. Bend your legs at a 90-degree angle (called tabletop position) with your knees fist-width apart and your calves parallel to the floor. Pull your belly button toward your spine to activate your core, and gently grab the back of your thighs to lift your head, neck, and chest off the floor.
Pull your right knee into your chest and place your hands on your right knee as you extend your left leg out, hovering above the mat, and switch sides, pulling your left knee toward your chest as you extend your right leg long, hovering above. carpet This is one repetition. Repeat 8-10 times.
Change prompt. Keep your head resting on the mat to reduce neck strain. For extra support, consider resting your head on a small folded towel.
Double leg stretch
Lie on your back with your arms at your sides and a neutral spine. Raise your feet on the table with your knees fist-width apart and your shins parallel to the floor. Pull your belly button toward your spine to activate your core and lift your upper back off the floor until your chest lifts and you feel a contraction in your abs.
Pull both knees into your chest and hug both to your body, keeping your shoulders and upper back off the ground, core engaged. As you inhale, point both legs in front of your body, and as you do, raise your arms by your ears. As you exhale, pull your knees back toward your body and place your hands on your calves. Repeat 8-10 times. Note that the lower your legs are, the harder it will be.
Change prompt. Keep your head resting on the mat (consider a folded towel under your head for extra support) and focus on moving your lower body while keeping your belly button pulled toward your spine.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Raise your feet up on the table with your knees hip-width apart and your shins parallel to the ground. Extend your arms long down by your side, palms down.
Keep your spine open and maintain a neutral spine position whenever possible. Hang from the hip crease and lower your right leg to touch the floor. Keep your core engaged as you lift your leg up onto the table. Repeat with the opposite leg for a total of 8-10 repetitions.
Change prompt. Keep one foot on the mat, bend the knee, feet flat on the floor, and focus on the toes, one foot at a time.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Keep your arms long at your sides. Raise your feet up on the table, externally rotate at the hips, keeping your heels together and your toes apart (frog position).
Inhale to prepare. As you exhale, pull your belly button toward your spine and extend your legs to a 45-degree angle with activated inner thighs. Return to the frog knee position and repeat 8-10 times. The lower you extend your legs, the more difficult this movement will be.
Change prompt. Point your feet toward the sky, rather than straight, to keep your back from arching while still building your core strength.
Lie on your back with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle (also flat on a table). Curling your head, neck, and chest off the mat, extend one leg toward the sky, grabbing the back of your leg, and the other leg straight out, hovering above the mat. Pull the top leg toward you with a quick “pulse, pulse” and switch legs. Keep your legs fully extended and your belly button pulled toward your spine. Repeat for a total of 8-10 repetitions.
Change prompt. Keep your legs slightly bent and/or relax with your head resting on the mat. For extra support, consider a folded towel behind your head.
Lie on your side with your lower arm extended toward the mat with your head resting on your upper arm as a pillow. Straighten your legs, hips, and shoulders so you’re lying in a straight line, then, if necessary, bend your bottom leg slightly to provide a base of support.
Find the engagement of your abs to create stability. The goal is not to waver. You can use your upper arm for stability by placing it on the mat in front of you. Finally, keep your hips aligned and create a little space under your side body and the mat. I like to call this the little mouse hole.
Bending at the crease of the hip, bend your leg and kick your top leg forward, keeping it parallel to the ground. Point your toes as you kick your leg back slightly behind your body, making sure to stay stable in your core and keep your hips tucked. Repeat for a total of 8-10 repetitions, then do the same on the other side.
Change prompt. Keep your stroke nice and small, focusing mostly on core stability and less on range of motion.
Lying spinal twists
Lie on your back with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle (also flat on a table). Raise both arms on either side of your body in a low V shape, palms facing up. Drop your shoulders away from your ears and maintain a neutral spine position. Keeping your knees and feet together. Inhale as you twist at the waist to let the legs and hips drop to the side. Press both shoulders firmly into the mat. As you exhale, use your abs to pull both legs back to center. Repeat on the other side for a total of 8-10 repetitions on each side.
Change prompt. Place your feet on the ground rather than feet on the table. This will help stabilize your body as you move from side to side.
Build lifelong core strength with these simple exercises
Alternatives to these boards can be used to create lifelong core support. At Lindywell, we believe that having strong abs isn’t about looking a certain way, it’s about helping your body function, no matter what you do or how old or young you are.