The inchworm exercise strengthens and stretches your body and can be used as part of a dynamic warm-up, mobility routine as well as within HIIT workouts.
It is a bodyweight movement that doesn’t require any equipment and primarily targets the core muscles (although your chest, back, arms and legs will also be engaged throughout). It also stretches out your posterior chain too.
The movement may look relatively straight-forward, but there are some common mistakes to avoid and proper form that can help you make the most out of this beginner-friendly, functional exercise.
In this guide, we outline how to perform the inchworm exercise properly, the muscles worked, benefits, variations and things to consider.
What is the Inchworm Exercise?
The inchworm exercise is a “standing-to-plank-back-to-standing” movement that engages your whole body. It is primarily a core exercise but it will engage your shoulders, back, arms, chest and legs too.
The Inchworm exercise is a total body movement that requires no equipment. It is suitable for beginners and those looking for a gentle, low impact exercise. It is also often referred to as “walkouts.”
The inchworm is a great exercise to include in your workout routine because it can be used as a warm-up for more strenuous strength training exercises, or as a standalone exercise.
The inchworm can be adapted to target specific muscles more, for example, holding the plank position longer will turn it into a gruelling core workout. Or perhaps you want to really stretch out some sore hamstrings, in which case you may want to reach to the floor slowly with straight legs to get a deep stretch on the backs of your legs.
You could also do a hand-release push up from the plank position too.
Inchworms in HIIT Workouts
The intensity at which you perform inchworms will largely dictate if it feels like an intense HIIT exercise or a gentle dynamic stretch.
The inchworm is an exercise that can be used for a variety of purposes, including as an active warm-up, as a progression exercise, or as a way to add endurance to a high-intensity interval training routine.
If you’re new to the exercise, try it with your knees on the floor during the plank, and work your way up to full plank.
How to do the Inchworm
- Start by standing upright with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Forward fold with straight legs and reach your arms down towards the ground in front of you, keeping your head forward and back straight. (If you have weak knees, bend them slightly as you forward fold).
- Slowly walk your hands away from your feet, extending your body into a plank position.
- The further away your hands are from your feet, the harder the position is to hold.
- Hold the plank position for a few seconds.
- Slowly walk your hands back to your feet, raising your body back into an upright position.
Coach’s Tip – Even if you’re doing this within a HIIT workout, this should be a slow and controlled movement. You also want to avoid your hip sagging as you enter the plank position of the movement.
The inchworm exercise primarily targets the core muscles (abdominals and obliques).
It will also activate the shoulders, arms, chest and back to help stabilize the body as you move through the different stages of the exercise.
The inchworm exercise will also stretch out your posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings and calves) too.
The inchworm offers a whole host of benefits, namely strengthening the core, shoulders, back and chest, whilst simultaneously stretching the hamstrings and calves.
Below, we outline some of these main benefits in more detail.
Low Impact Cardio
The inchworm is a low impact exercise and perfect for anyone looking for bodyweight movements that don’t put unwanted pressure on the hips, knees and ankles.
The inchworm should also be praised for its ability to offer an effective cardio workout too. If you’re looking for an alternative to burpees or mountain climbers, that’s perhaps a little gentler on your joints, inchworms could be the exercise you’ve been looking for!
Your shoulders and wrist are required to support the high plank position though, as we’ll discuss later on.
The inchworm exercise primarily helps to engage and strengthen the core muscles (abdominals and obliques).
The further away you place your hands during the plank hold phase of the exercise, the harder your core muscles have to work, so you can try and increase this distance over time as you see improvements in your strength.
A stronger core helps to improve athletic performance, posture, functional movement, as well as having aesthetic benefits too.
The movement is also great for improving flexibility in the hamstrings and legs. To really benefit, slowly lower yourself down into the plank position with straight legs.
Tightness in the hamstrings can lead to all sorts of MSK issues, so including plenty of posterior chain stretches into your fitness routine is certainly a wise decision, especially if you spend a lot of time sitting down.
No Equipment Required
The Inchworm exercise requires no equipment, making it great for at-home workouts or when you’re traveling.
Engage Chest, Arms, Shoulders and Back
Although the primary muscles worked in the exercise are the core muscles, your chest, arms, shoulders and back will still be activated and engaged to support your body during the movement.
This is makes it a very effective upper body strength movement that can included in HIIT workouts for those looking to target lots of muscles with just a handful of exercises.
There are few common mistakes you need to avoid when doing inchworms.
Firstly, ensure your hips down sag down as you enter the plank position during the movement. This signals that your core and glutes aren’t engaged so if you notice your hips dropping, squeeze your core and glutes to lift your hips up. This helps to promote better spine alignment.
Another common mistake is bending the knees too soon, which doesn’t allow you to stretch your hamstrings.
Slow, Controlled Movement
Inchworm Modification and Variations
One of the reasons people love the inchworm as part of a HIIT or calisthenics workout is the option for variations and modifications.
A popular modification is to add a push-up into the movement once you’re in the plank position. This will instantly up the tempo and create all the benefits a push-up offers (e.g. stronger chest, shoulders and arms). There are also so many variations of push-ups, such as close grip or superman push-ups (or LaLanne push ups for the very brave), meaning the ability to vary up the entire movement is never ending.
You could also add a squat jump once you return to the standing upright position. This would focus the movement on more lower body strength.
Another way to modify the Inchworm is to add an Asian squat (or deep squat) before you crawl into the plank position. This brings with it the benefit of a deep squat, such as hip mobility and range of motion. This is sometimes referred to as a “sumo inchworm” which also involves a wider stance throughout. This can be used with a hip mobility routine too.
Things to Consider
The inchworm would largely be considered a beginner-friendly movement. It doesn’t require high-impact movements or a high level of existing strength to get started.
Nevertheless, there are some instances where it might not be recommended.
If you have weak wrists or are recovering from a wrist injury, you may find you want to stick with wrist-friendly workouts, as inchworms will require you to support your body in a high plank position at the bottom of the movement.
Tight hamstrings or limited hip mobility could also make the exercise hard to perform properly.
Ultimately, we think the inchworm is a great bodyweight exercise to use, especially in bodyweight warm-ups and workouts. Doing 3 sets of 10 repetitions is a great way to prime the upper body for a strength training workout, whilst also stretching out the lower body.
The ability to engage multiple muscle groups at once also means it’s a great exercise for anyone short on time, or who’s looking to follow HIIT routines.
Like any exercise, good technique is paramount, so take things nice and slow and ensure you’re keeping your core braced throughout and that your movement path encourages good alignment between the back, hips and hamstrings.