How Can We Progress Core Exercises While Training?

The “core” is so much more than the “6-pack washboard abs”. Our core is a rather large collection of muscles which stabilize and move the spine. In general, your shoulders, torso, and hips all make up “core strength”. This includes the popular core muscles such as the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and multifidis, but also other muscles such as the quadratus lumborum, latissimus dorsi, gluteal muscles, and the pectoralis muscles.

You can think of the core as the anatomical bridge between the hips and shoulders. The core must be stable and strong to support every day, as well as sport specific movements. It is important to remember that our core has three-dimensional depth and moves in three planes of motion. Therefore, our core musculature is involved in many movements in sports. Increased core stability increases the transfer of power from the lower extremities to the upper extremities (for example, a throwing motion).

Core stability training includes various muscles, may involve various planes of motion, and can either be static or dynamic (not moving or moving), therefore there’s almost an endless possibility of core exercises. In this blog post, we will focus on arguably the most popular core strengthening exercise, the plank, and how to progress the plank.


Isometric (static) planks are the foundation to core stability. It’s important to have proper form in the plank position before we progress core stability training and/or make it dynamic.

Tips for Proper Planking:

  • Try to be one long line from ankle to ear, keep your hips level and don’t let your low back sink down (keep a neutral spine)
  • Distribute weight equally from feet and shoulders
  • If you keep your hands apart and supinate your hands (palms up) this will activate your lat muscles more
  • Push “away” from the ground
  • If you are just starting to exercise, start by planking for short periods of time and work your way up to longer times
  • If a full plank is too hard, start from your knees
  • You should not get low back pain with planking

Planking Variations:

Planks are not the only core stability training in which athletes and general fitness goers can do. There are plenty of progressions from the plank, however, it is important that you progress to these. Below is a short list of planking variations that you can use in your fitness routine.

1. Plank Using a Foam Roller
You can add a foam roller under your elbows OR under your toes.

What does it do?: This makes the plank more difficult because it creates an uneven surface, however, the plank is still isometric. The foam roller at the feet puts more emphasis on the lower extremity.

2. Swiss Ball Plank
What does it do?: Just like the plank using a foam roller variation, this is another way to add instability to the plank.

3. Swiss Ball Plank Pulses
Take the swiss ball plank (above) and “pulse” shoulders forwards and backwards. Have your palms come to your chin and then to your forehead.

What does it do?: Adds an unstable surface and adds a dynamic aspect to the plank. Try it with your palms up.

4. Shoulder Taps in Plank Position
With your arms extended, you can alternate touching the opposite shoulder with your hands. Try not to move your hips. To make it easier, have your feet wider than hip width. To make it more difficult, hold the tap for longer or lift the opposite leg.

What does it do?: The shoulder taps add a dynamic focus to the plank, however, more emphasis is on activation of the small shoulder stabilizing muscles.

5. Plank with Swiss Ball Adduction Squeeze
What does it do?: Puts an emphasis on the lower extremity (the adductor muscle group has to actively squeeze is on the ball).

Author: Evelyn Graham