There is a surprising variety of ways you can use them to strengthen and tone your body.
The standard plank is the type of exercise most people are familiar with. You get into a position similar to a push-up, except you're resting your weight on your forearms instead of on your hands. You keep your core flexed, your legs straight, and your head up, all while taking deep, steady breaths.
The standard plank works a huge variety of muscles, from your traps to your back, chest, abs, thighs, and calves according to Plank Exercise App. In addition to the resistance exercise, though, planks also work on endurance and mental toughness, without putting a strain on the spine or neck the way sit-ups and crunches can when not performed perfectly. When you use different types of plank exercises, the result is that you isolate and strengthen muscle groups that typically get ignored.
If the regular plank (or even push-up planks, where you do a standard plank but with your arms fully extended, so you are in a push-up position) has gotten too easy for you, all you need to bring back the challenge is a medicine ball. According to this video at The Fit Dad Says, all you need to do is get into a push-up plank with both your hands on the medicine ball. This requires you to work harder to keep your balance, which will engage more muscles and make them work harder. Also, the closer together your feet are, the more difficult the plank is going to be.
You can also change this up if you have a fitness ball. You put your hands on the ground, and your feet on the ball, maintaining your balance and holding position without letting your feet roll away from you.
The side plank really works those hard-to-reach muscles along your sides, along with your shoulders and shoulder blades. Begin in a standard plank, and then roll onto either your left or right side. You can support yourself either on your forearm or your hand. The key is to keep yourself balanced and to hold your body straight.
Also, if you find that side planks are too easy for you, there are all sorts of accessories you can add to them. The hip dip, as seen here, gives you an extra ab workout along with the strain of maintaining good form. If you have truly mastered the side plank, then you could add an oblique crunch to it. This video shows you how, and it is not for the faint of heart.
If standard planks are just too easy for you, try doing a tripod plank instead. For these planks, you lift one arm, or one leg, and hold it out straight. This shifts the muscles being used to compensate and requires significantly more balance to maintain than a plank when you have four on the floor.
If you really want to challenge yourself, there's the "around the world" plank. You begin by lifting one arm, and holding the plank. Then you put that arm down and hold out the other arm. You put your second arm down and hold up one leg. Then you switch to the other leg. Finally, you hold your standard plank position. This plank exercise that will make you sweat and is something to work yourself up to.
For other great plank variations, check out Philly Mag.
Photo Credits: Bigstockphoto