Celebrity trainer Kira Stokes loves making fitness more fun. The New York City–based certified trainer, fitness instructor, and creator of the Stoked Method whose clients include Fuller House actor Candace Cameron Bure, frequently shares exercises on social media that somehow look as enjoyable as they do difficult—like beachside jumping rope, a partner ballet-esque cardio circuit, and pull-ups on an NYC crosswalk sign.
On Wednesday, Stokes shared via Instagram yet another example of exercise meets entertainment: a move she created that she calls Chicago inspired plank walks (as in the musical), thanks to a slow, sultry twisting of the legs.
“I’m constantly creating and trying to find new options for planks,” Stokes tells SELF about the inspiration behind this challenging movement. “They are an important exercise, and holding a solid basic plank is challenging in and of itself, but people can get bored…it’s fun to find ways to spice it up.”
You can check out the video here:
This move provides all of the core-strengthening benefits of a basic plank—and then some.
A plank is a great exercise because it targets both the rectus abdominis (what you think of when you think abs) and the transverse abdominis (the deepest ab muscle that wraps around your sides and spine), explains Stokes. When most people think about their core, they just picture the abs, but “what’s equally important is your transverse abdominis,” says Stokes.
It plays a key role in stabilizing your body. “The transverse abdominis is an intrinsic core stabilizer, which means it helps stabilize your core and spine to help your body function correctly,” Cori Lefkowith, Orange County–based personal trainer and founder of Redefining Strength, previously told SELF.
These Chicago-inspired plank walks target the rectus and transverse abdominis, as well as the internal and external obliques (the muscles on the sides of your stomach), which are not typically engaged during a standard plank, Stokes says. Your obliques help you bend to one side and perform any type of twisting motion, and they are another important part of building a strong and stable core. Basically, for this massive muscle group to do its job, it needs to rely on the strength from each part—that's why it’s important to target various muscles within the core, and not just the abs.
“It’s good to keep your core guessing,” adds Stokes. These Chicago-style plank walks certainly do that.
It also works a few big muscles beyond your core.
This plank variation also works your lats (the broadest muscle on your back), shoulders, and triceps, as well as your gluteus medius (the smaller hip abductor muscle on the outer side of your butt that supports the hip and rotational movement of the thigh), and your hip adductor muscles (inner thighs). In other words, it’s a great total-body move.
The slow, twisting rotations make it so you target different muscles at different times. When you bring your knee to the same-side elbow, you’ll tap into your glute medius as well as your internal and external obliques. As you glide your knee across your body to the opposite elbow, you’ll target the inner thigh and internal obliques. And as you put your foot back down on the ground, you’ll contract your lower obliques and lower transverse abdominis as well as your inner thigh.
Here’s how to do the move:
- Start in a high plank with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, wrists directly under your shoulders, and your core, glutes, and quads engaged.
- Lift your right leg, bend your knee, and bring it toward your right elbow. Pause here for two seconds.
- Keeping your right knee bent and lifted, rotate your knee and hips and swivel your left foot as you bring your right knee to your left elbow. Pause here for two seconds.
- Straighten your right leg and place your right foot on the floor to the left of your left foot. Your legs will be crossed. Pause here for two seconds.
- Repeat this series with your left leg, bringing it first to your left elbow and then to your right elbow before crossing it over your right leg and lowering it to the floor.
- Continue for 60 seconds. Work up to three sets of 60 seconds.
As you bring your knee to the opposite elbow, be sure to pivot the foot that’s still on the floor about 45 degrees in the direction of the opposite elbow. This will prevent you from overtorquing your lower back, says Stokes.
Also, as you perform the twists, hug your knee into your chest as tightly as possible. In doing this, you’ll likely feel slight tension in your hip flexor. Don’t be concerned, says Stokes—this is natural. You should also be continually pressing up through your palms and shoulder blades, as this will increase the engagement in your lats and lower abdomen.
When doing this move, remember: “Pace is a part of form,” Stokes says. This exercise is meant to be performed slowly—even slower than she demos in the video, she says. Stokes recommends a two-second pause at the top of each separate motion to hone in on the muscles that are working. “When you’re going through your flow, if you can slow it down and take a moment at each point of contraction, you will allow your muscles time to understand how they are supposed to be reacting,” Stokes says.
And lastly, before attempting this variation—or any plank variation, for that matter—make sure you’ve mastered a basic plank, Stokes says. That means drawing your belly button toward your spine, lifting your hips, tucking your pelvis (to make sure your lower back is not arched), and squeezing your glutes. When you can comfortably hold a regular plank for at least 60 seconds, try adding a dramatic flourish with these super challenging (and super fun) Chicago-style plank walks.