Gone are the days when we used to force ourselves into a position and then hold it for an indefinite amount of time (one 1,000, two 1,000 . . .), especially right before a workout. We now know that it's better to ease your way into exercise with more dynamic movements, like the ones in this three-plank core-strengthening series, which will safely warm up all of your muscles in just a few minutes.
"These are like planks on steroids. They have you working in three different directions, or planes of motion, so that you automatically get more muscle activation than you do with a normal plank," says master trainer Josh Stolz, a Tier 4 coach in New York City. "Plus, adding in a resistance band helps activate your rotator cuff, lats, serratus anterior, and pecs, making this a much more difficult upper-body workout as well."
These amped-up planks not only target your shoulders and your entire core*—internal/external obliques, rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis, and back— they also improve your posture and teach your body to move together more functionally, as you do in everyday life. "Your shoulder blades, hips, and pelvis are working in synergy with each other throughout this routine. The key is to let your hips drive the movement and keep your spine aligned," Stolz says. So you're really getting a true full-body workout every time you hit the floor.
Perform two sets of these moves, in the order listed, as a warm-up to your normal cardio and/or strength sessions. As you progress, work your way up to four sets and then drop back down to two, but increase your total number of reps for each exercise by one.
1. Sagittal Plane Plank
Wrap a super-light resistance band loop* around your wrists and get into modified-plank position (elbows under shoulders, legs extended behind you, toes tucked under, back flat), with palms facing up and thumbs out to sides. Drive hips up toward the ceiling, so your head points downward and your hands move out to sides a couple of inches, forming an upside-down V (downward dog) with your body, pressing back with heels. Lower hips and move hands back to start. Do 5 reps.
2. Frontal Plane Plank
In modified-plank position with resistance band looped around your wrists (palms up, thumbs out to sides), keep your head stationary and back flat as you drive hips from left to right, moving opposite hand a couple of inches out to the side with each push. Do 10 total reps (5 each side).
3. Transverse Plane Plank
In modified-plank position with resistance band looped around your wrists (palms up, thumbs out to sides) and feet about shoulder-width apart, rotate your shoulders and torso to the right, rolling from your toes onto the sides of your feet, in order to bring right hip down toward floor, moving right hand a couple of inches out to the side as you do. Immediately switch sides and repeat. Continue rotating from left to right for 10 total reps (5 each side).
*Start with the lightest resistance band possible. If you don't have a loop, use a regular band: Grip band with hands about shoulder-width apart (there should be a little tension), thumbs out to sides. Beginners: Perform moves without the band until you become more comfortable and then add it in.