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Modifying the High Plank Hold to Suit All Fitness Levels

Modifying the High Plank Hold to Suit All Fitness Levels

By Sarah E. Rippel


The high plank shoulder tap is a total-body exercise, no doubt, but one that focuses on anterior core. More specifically, it challenges anti-rotation along with scapular stabilization. It’s an excellent exercise, but one that may not be appropriate for a lot of beginner-intermediate level clients. No worries, though, because with our ability to coach a person up appropriately we can help them get there!


Follow along as I outline how I help a less-advanced client get to the high plank shoulder tap.


One of the fundamental body positions and exercises I use with each and every client, regardless of level of ability, is the high plank (or push-up plank, as some call it). For beginners, simply holding this position for time is enough of a challenge. For the more advanced, a hand-release push-up is an example of a high plank progression. If I sat here long enough, I could rattle off a seemingly-endless list of exercises that can be done in this simple position, but I have clients to train and you do not have all day to sit here reading, so I shall keep this short!


I begin each of my clients with movement screening. The trunk stability push-up (TSPU) is one of the components of the Functional Movement Screen, and this specific pattern is often challenging for women. Men don’t typically have as much of an issue with it, but to be honest I tend to find more people in general have issues than do not with this specific pattern. The ability to reflexively fire the core musculature prior to utilizing the strength of the limbs is a fundamental one, but it is one that can easily become lost due to our sedentary lifestyles, improper breathing mechanics, etc.


In my groups, if someone has a trunk stability push-up that is scored a 1, I would have them perform a “level one” variation for a pushup-specific exercise in our protocol. This could be a high plank hold, a hands-elevated push-up, etc. A more advanced high plank variation or push-ups from the floor would be too advanced for this person to execute with good mechanics.


Level One: High Plank Hold


The high plank hand switch is an appropriate predecessor to the high plank shoulder tap. It incorporates a dynamic component and can be tweaked to decrease the range of motion if necessary. To do this, simply lift the right hand away from the floor for a second at a time instead of moving the right hand over to meet the left (and vice versa).


Level Two: High Plank Hand Switch


To be fully competent in performing the high plank shoulder tap, the exerciser must be able to maintain an initial high plank position while taking away the support of the right arm. The hips must not drop or rotate. There should be no compensation throughout the body.


Level Three: High Plank Shoulder Tap

For more advanced participants, push-ups from the floor are appropriate options. The addition of either a hand-release or traditional push-up to the shoulder tap movement is a challenging combo!

Level Four: Push-Up to Shoulder Tap



Finally, the high plank/push-up can be taken up a notch by elevating the feet on a box or bench.


Level Five: Push-Up with Feet Elevated


The possibilities for “tweaks” based on a specific individual’s capabilities are endless if we consider the fact that the basic high plank hold can be made less intense by elevating the hands on a low step or bench. Conversely, the most advanced participant could take the feet-elevated push-up and crank it up by performing it with one foot raised off the bench, or throw in the shoulder tap after the push-up. More often than not, the more basic exercise variations are going to be the ones that are the most effective for your clients (and the easiest to coach), but every now and then it’s nice to have some “fun” stuff in your back pocket!


Check Out Sarah Ripples Brand NEW Done for YOU Group Training System for Fit Pros: Build N’ Burn 


Podcast with Sarah Rippel on Systematizing Group Training and more:



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