How to: Plank
Primary Muscles Used:Abs
Exercise Families:Trunk Anti-Extension
- Start by placing your forearms (wrist to elbow) firmly on the mat, ensuring that your elbows are directly below your shoulders. Extend both legs behind you and elevate your hips off the mat, resting on the balls of your feet. Brace your abdominals and ensure that your spine remains in a neutral position. Hold this position for the specified amount of time, breathing deeply throughout.
Planks are a full-body bodyweight exercise, which means you can strengthen your whole body anywhere without needing any equipment at all. Planks don't just strengthen multiple muscle groups though, they can also improve your skeletal strength.
Other benefits of planks include:
Improving your posture, by strengthening the muscles that support your spine.
Helping you develop both strength and endurance. It might not seem like it, compared to a long run or session on the rower, but trying to hold a plank position for any amount of time is more taxing than it looks!
Plus, improving your plank is a great first step to mastering a range of key bodyweight exercises. Many exercises including push-ups, commandos, shoulder taps and mountain climbers start in a plank position.
What muscles do planks work?
Planks primarily strengthen your core muscles including your transverse abdominus, rectus abdominis and obliques; but because they involve your full body to hold the position, you also engage your arms, glutes, quads and more.
How long should you hold a plank?
There is no set ideal amount of time to hold a plank - it will vary for everyone depending on your current strength and fitness levels. Generally, aim to hold a plank long enough to challenge yourself without holding it for so long that your form starts to break down.
If you’re holding a plank as part of a circuit workout, aim for the length of time specified, but switch to a knee plank or take a break if you’re starting to notice your form deteriorating.
Common mistakes to avoid
The plank looks like an incredibly simple exercise to perform, but you still need to take care to avoid a couple of mistakes to get the most out of the exercise and minimise your chances of injury. Common mistakes to watch out for are:
Letting your lower back collapse. This is one of the most common mistakes, and can lead to injury if you don’t watch out for it. To avoid it, imagine that you're drawing your belly button in towards your spine to keep your lower back engaged.
Looking up or forward. It’s important to keep a neutral spine when you perform a plank, but as soon as you start tilting your neck to look up or forward, you lose it. Keep your neck in line with your spine by looking directly down at the floor.
Holding your breath: as with any exercise, it’s important to breathe!
Focusing on the time instead of your form. A 30 second plank done with proper form is much better for you than letting your form suffer trying to set a new personal record. You may find you will actually improve faster if you focus on form first.
Plank variations and alternatives
If you're finding it a challenge to hold a plank for any amount of time, the best alternative is to perform a knee plank instead. The only change you need to make is to keep your knees on the floor instead of your toes.
To add a little more variety or make your planks more challenging, try any of these plank alternatives:
High plank: hold the plank position with the palms of your hands on the ground and your arms straight. Combined with the different angle, this plank variation increases the difficulty slightly.
Side plank: try the side plank to engage your obliques throughout the exercise.
Plank with toe raise: To perform a plank with toe raise, start in a low plank position and alternate lifting one leg at a time for as many reps as you want.
Single leg plank: similar to the plank with leg raise, though in this variation you hold the plank position with one leg raised for a set amount of time (like 30 seconds) before switching legs.
Plank with arm raise: This is just like the plank with leg raise, but you’ll be lifting your arms one at a time instead of your legs. Start in the forearm plank position.
Inchworm: to perform an inchworm, start in a standing position and bend forward at the hips to place your hands on the floor in front of you. Walk your hands forward until you reach a high plank position, then return to the starting position.
Mountain climbers: try this alternative for a tougher abs exercise that also gets your heart rate up.
Alternative Exercises for Abs
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.