The prop: sandbag or weight plate
Lie on your stomach and slide the weight onto your shoulders, or ask a friend to do it for you. Raise yourself into plank position on your forearms or hands and hold as long as you can with good form. Repeat up to three times. “If you're on your hands, you'll be using more anterior shoulder muscles in an isometric fashion,” says Carmean. “If you're on your forearms, the base of support is a little wider so you may feel it less in the shoulders and more in the anterior abs.”
The prop: resistance band or cable
Anchor a resistance band six inches off the ground (or have a partner hold it) or lower the cable stack to its the lowest point. Place yourself so your left shoulder is in front of the handle with no slack in the band/cable. Come into pushup position, grasping the handle in your left hand, then bring it to your left hip and hold it there while you maintain a solid, even plank for 10 to 15 seconds. Rest for an equal amount of time, then repeat on the same side three times. Switch sides and repeat. “This variation is great for helping to activate the lats and as a regression for a single-arm push-up,” Carmean says. “It also will work your obliques and deep abs in an anti-rotational fashion.”
The prop: sandbag or medicine ball
From a push-up position, place a sandbag (or medicine ball) underneath your chest, aligned slightly to the right. Grab the sandbag with your left hand and drag it to the left side of your body (or roll the ball). Go back and forth for up to 45 seconds, focusing on keeping your plank level as you move your arms. Rest, then do up to four rounds. “Depending on how heavy the sandbag is, you'll also get the benefit of the pulling action on your upper back muscles and arms,” says Carmean.
The prop: physioball
Place your forearms on top of a physioball and come up onto your toes in plank. Stay there for 30 to 60 seconds, keeping your glutes, quads, lats, and abs as tight as possible. “To increase the intensity, push your forearms away from your chest, slowly and deliberately,” says Carmean. Lower back down to your knees, pause, and repeat 10 to 20 times. Do a total of three sets. “The instability of the ball will increase the amount of tension on the abs and on the shoulders," Carmean adds.
The prop: gliders or towels
On a slick surface, place your feet on gliders or towels in a forearm plank, close together, and slide them away from your elbows, pressing your forearms hard into the floor. Then, pull your feet back towards your elbows to return to start. “This isn't a pike,” Carmean says. “Your hips should stay level with your shoulders the entire time.” Do five to 10 reps for up to three rounds. “You'll feel lots of rectus abdominis action here, as well as a connection to your lats,” she says.
The prop: physioball, gliders or towels, or suspension straps like TRX From the top of the pushup position, place the tops of your feet and about half of your shins on a physioball behind you, or your toes on gliders/towels or in the suspension straps (harder than the first two options). While gazing at your hands, slowly drag your feet in, legs straight, so your hips come up toward the sky. With control, straighten your body back out into a plank. Do five to 10 reps for up to three sets. “These are great as prep for getting comfortable in an upside down position for things like handstands or handstand push-up progressions,” Carmean says. “You'll feel lots of anterior shoulder, lats, and transverse abdominis engagement here as you try not to rotate or flex the torso.”
The prop: step or box about 6 inches high
Come into a high plank position with the box to the right of your body. Place your right hand on the box, side-stepping your right foot (make sure it clears the back of the box), then bring your left hand onto the box, side stepping your left foot toward the right. Then step your right hand off the box (another right step with the foot) and follow with your left hand/left foot, so now the step is on your left. Do 5 to 8 trips across the box, for three sets. “You can also make it more intense by adding a narrow-grip pushup whenever both hands are on the box. Or, add a push-up on each step, though that would be particularly grueling!” Carmean says.
The prop: a partner
Carmean cites this exercise as her favorite buddy drill. “It's fun, and a great way to learn to deal with various asymmetrical loading patterns,” she says. (In other words, you're loading your body unevenly, so you are challenged to stabilize against that load.) Come into either a push-up position or forearm plank, firing up every muscle in your body to be as firm as possible. “Have your partner press against you in varying places—armpits, ribs, hips, quads, feet—but don't let them move you,” she says. Hold for as long as you can with good form, then switch partners.