Try this tough plank progression for a major abs-and-arms burn

Kirsti Buick
·3-min read
Photo credit: vgajic - Getty Images
Photo credit: vgajic - Getty Images

From Harper's BAZAAR

Shoulder taps require minimal movement – when done right, at least. Who’d have thought such a minute move could pack such a punch?

Despite how simple this plank variation might look, shoulder taps (or plank shoulder taps) really are a big move.

"Shoulder taps are a major core-strengthening exercise, working the shoulders and arms, transversus abdominis (your deep core muscles), obliques (sides), as well as your back," says Sam Ruane, personal trainer at FLEX Chelsea.

The benefits of shoulder taps

As is often the case with multi-muscle moves like these, there are benefits abound.

"Through strengthening the core, shoulder taps lead to improved posture and balance," says Ruane. "In strengthening the lower back, they could also help reduce the risk of injuries in other aspects of training, as well as in day-to-day life."

Which muscles do shoulder taps work?

  • Core

  • Arms

  • Shoulders

  • Lower back

How to do shoulder taps

While they might not look that much harder than your garden variety plank, it’s not a bad idea to get the hang of the move on your knees first, Ruane says. Think of this as your shoulder tap training wheels.

"On the knees, you can work at fixing the pelvis so you’re not rotating the hips and focus on stabilising through the core while you build your strength up."

  1. To start, get into a press-up position on your knees with your wrists directly underneath your shoulders. Now – and here’s the key – brace your core and squeeze your glutes. It might help to imagine you’re bracing yourself to stay motionless in a giant gust of wind.

  2. Lift your left hand to tap your right shoulder. Press it firmly back down into your mat, then lift your right hand to tap your left shoulder. "Don’t rush through the reps – move slowly with the hands," Ruane says. "This way you will really feel the core engagement."

Once you can manage 16 reps or more (8 each side) on your knees in one go (with perfect form), you’re ready to try on your toes. This time, you’ll start in a normal push-up or high plank position, with your wrists under your shoulders and your body in one straight line from your head to your heels.

Here, you’ll likely find it much harder to keep your hips level. If you’re not quite there yet, try widening your legs and go again.

Avoid: "While pregnant, the weight could get quite intense and become uncomfortable," Ruane says. Try performing the move against a wall instead (with your body in a straight, diagonal line). "This way the pressure is relieved from the lower back and the core is still engaged."

Shoulder tap form mistakes

1. Your hips are sagging

This is more likely to be a problem when you’re up on your toes, and a sure-fire sign your core is not properly engaged. Focus on squeezing your abs and your glutes to keep them in line with your shoulders.

2. You’re swaying or rotating your hips as you tap

The number one mistake with this move. Focus on keeping your hips level. Imagine you’ve got two headlights beaming out from your hips and you need to keep them focused on the floor.

Make it a workout: shoulder tap core blast

Repeat this circuit 4 times with a 30-second rest between rounds, or do it through once as a core finisher after your workout.

1. Shoulder tap

Do: 12 reps (6 each side)

2. Russian twist

Do: 12 reps (6 each side)


3. Plank hip dips

Do: 12 reps (6 each side)

4. Mountain climber

Do: 30 sec

5. Plank

Do: 30 sec – or more


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