I did this plank variation 40 times a day for three weeks, here's what changed

I reveal why anyone looking for a full-body core-focused exercise should be doing this plank variation

Gemma trying a plank variation
(Image credit: Gemma Harris)

It's the killer plank variation that activates your obliques, torches your abs, and even works your hamstrings - otherwise called plank toe touches. And, I was set the challenge of doing 40 every day for three weeks. Thanks to planks having a bad rep for being a tough exercise, I have to admit that I was a little nervous. Despite this move being a core strengthening exercise and my existing familiarity with this variation, I still tend to wince when I hear the word plank. But, I was determined to try this nonetheless. 

Sometimes referred to as X plank, the move involves beginning in high plank, with both hands flat on the floor shoulder-width apart, directly below your shoulders. From this position, raise your hips high and release your right hand to reach for your left toe. Next, lower your hips, place your hand back on the floor and return to high plank. Repeating this on the other side, raise your hips high and release your left hand to reach for your right foot, then return to high plank. This is one rep.

I did this as part of a 10-15 minute ab routine before or after a workout to ensure I was working my core muscles equally. This involved other moves such as weighted dead bugs and mountain climbers. Plank variations, such as this or using the best ab rollers for ab wheel plank or plank with shoulder tap, enable you to target multiple core muscles and add variety to your workout.

Plus, not only are plank toe touches an ab burner but an upper-body burner too, encouraging wrist, tricep, and bicep strength. I was aware I needed to build my upper body strength in conjunction with my core strength which is why I took on this challenge. Here’s what happened when I did daily plank toe touches for three weeks.

1. My wrists took a bashing

Conventional planks are notorious for being tough on the wrists and this variation was no different. Evidence (opens in new tab) shows this is because they require your wrists to support your body weight and if your wrists aren’t used to this pressure or type of activity, it could be a sign of weakness or lack of mobility within the wrists which can cause them to ache or fatigue quickly.

However, improper form such as placing your hands too far forward or wide apart can be another reason for wrist pain during planks. And, doing too much of one type of movement can cause strain and even lead to an overuse injury, according to Mayo Clinic (opens in new tab).

For these reasons, I was very conscious of keeping correct form by making sure my wrists were beneath my shoulders in plank position and that I also used my legs and core strength to lift my hips for the toe touches. For me, this highlighted my need to work on my wrist and shoulder strength by doing exercises such as the yoga pose downward dog or lateral raises with dumbbells.

Of course, modifying plank toe touch can help to alleviate wrist pain. For instance, dropping to your knees when in plank position takes some of the weight off your wrists. The NHS (opens in new tab) claims gentle movements and stretches can also help to relieve wrist pain.

Gemma trying a plank variation

(Image credit: Gemma Harris)

2. It was tougher than I thought

As I already often did plank toe touches, I expected taking on the increase in reps to be a breeze (okay, well maybe not quite a breeze). But, I couldn’t have been more wrong!

During the first few days, I really struggled to complete the 40 reps because of the strain I could feel in my wrists, arms, and shoulders and the burn in my obliques; I used all my determination to get through it but did have to take short breaks every 10 reps.

By day six, I could tell it was just too tough on my arms. I was conscious I was putting too much pressure on my wrists and shoulders and I didn’t want to risk an overuse injury. But, I didn’t give up. Instead, I decided to reduce the number of reps to 20. This was definitely more manageable but still challenging.

Gemma trying a plank variation

(Image credit: Gemma Harris)

3. It got my heart racing

Despite being classed as a core exercise, moving planks, like plank toe touches, are both a strength and conditioning move. The tempo of moving my arms to my toes and back built some heat and got my heart pumping while pushing my body off the ground with my hands and feet required force. On warmer days, I broke out in a sweat by the end of the set and I was definitely breathing (or should I say puffing and panting) heavier.

Research (opens in new tab) shows that both cardiovascular exercise and resistance training are very important for heart health and plank toe touch provides both – bonus!

Plank variation 40 times a day for three weeks: my verdict

There’s no doubt doing plank toe touches 40 times a day for three weeks was a challenge. It’s safe to say I totally underestimated the intensity and strength needed for this move. I would often feel like I needed to book a shoulder massage. For this reason, toward the end of the three-week challenge, I did slightly resent this exercise. However, the combined cardio and strength benefits and the fact it works everything from my wrists to my toes, including targeting my obliques, makes it a great full-body core-focused exercise to add to my ab workout. It feels as though it has become part of my routine, like brushing my teeth. So, I’ll keep going with the plank toe touches but just not every day.

If I could do this challenge again, I’d begin by doing 20 reps of the move at least until I’ve built my wrist and shoulder strength, and then gradually add on a few more reps. If there’s one thing this challenge has taught me, it’s to not jump in at the deep end and to go steady and gradually build up. Plus, it re-emphasized the importance of listening to my body.

If you’re after a multi-functional move that adds cardio as well as strength to your core workout or are just after something different from the ordinary plank, then I would recommend giving this a try. You might be surprised by how many reps you can do.

For other features on building up your core strength, check out the best abs workout or give these core workouts for beginners a go. 

Gemma Harris is a UK-based freelance journalist and health writer who blogs at thegutchoice.com (opens in new tab) and has specialist insight into gut health. She produces content for multimedia health and lifestyle platforms, including calmmoment.com (opens in new tab), StomaTips, Planet Mindful and metro.co.uk (opens in new tab) because she has a passion for health and wellness. When not writing, she can be found walking or running in nature, at a yoga or spin class, swimming or having cocktails with friends.