Planks are a super popular exercise that can help you make massive progress along your fitness journey. Heck, they can even improve your quality of life!
Now, I’m sure you’ve heard of planks before, but in case you haven’t … let’s talk about what they are. Planks are an isometric strength exercise for your core. They can help improve your posture, your balance, and even help encourage better breathing. On top of that, planks are a great exercise to keep your spine safe and strengthen your back (1)!
I’ll teach you everything you need to know about planking, and exactly how you can add it to your exercise routine. Trust me when I say, you don’t want to skip out on these.
If you want a simple way to help improve your performance in the gym or daily life … look no further than the plank!
How to Do a Standard Plank
Planks are great because you can do them virtually anywhere. You don’t need a gym … you don’t need equipment … you don’t need a partner … all you really need is yourself and a flat surface!
Here’s exactly how you do it:
1. Start by laying flat on your stomach and position your hands on either side of your shoulders.
2. Press yourself up from your arms into a push-up position. Your feet should be spaced about 6-12 inches apart from each other. Prop yourself up on your toes as well.
3. Engage your core by squeezing your glutes, abs, and quads. This will help you keep your body straight, and in a position to get the most out of your plank. You should literally feel like you’re bracing your core to be punched in the stomach!
4. Maintain this position for a set amount of time, or for as long as you can.
How to Maintain Good Form For Your Planks
Yes, they are that simple! However, maintaining good form the whole time is not always easy. Here are some good queues that you can focus on to optimize your form:
• Keep your eyes down and focused on a spot between your hands to keep your neck in line with your spine.
• Widen your shoulder blades to activate your back muscles.
• Keep your hips level to ensure that your weight is distributed evenly to work your entire body.
• Focus on your breathing! Make sure you keep your breathing slow and controlled throughout the entire duration of the plank.
If you want to avoid injury, you want to keep your body as straight as possible the whole time. It helps me out a ton when I imagine balancing a cup of water on my lower back. You need to keep the water level to avoid it from spilling!
Something else that makes planking so awesome is how many different variations you can try. Other than a standard plank, here are a few other great variations to try out:
A lot of people will perform a traditional plank by balancing on their forearms instead of their hands. This is a great way to activate your core even more than a traditional plank!
1. Lay on your stomach with your forearms laid flat on the ground, underneath your shoulders.
2. Lift your hips off the ground and support your body with your forearms and toes.
3. Brace your core, quads, and glutes to keep your back nice and straight.
4. Hold this position for a set amount of time before returning to the floor to rest.
This is another great variation of the plank that will target your oblique muscles a little more than normal.
1. Lay on your right side with your legs extended straight and stacked on top of each other.
2. Use your right arm to push your head, shoulder, and hips off the ground. Plant your elbow and forearm directly on the ground, under your shoulder, for support.
3. Brace your core and make sure to keep your head and neck in line with your spine.
4. Hold this position for a set amount of time before switching to the left side of your body to repeat.
If you aren’t quite strong enough to do a traditional plank yet, you may consider trying a knee plank. Knee planks are a less intensive way to get a lot of the same benefits a traditional plank can give you.
1. Lay flat on your stomach with your palms on either side of your shoulders.
2. Push your upper body off the ground with your arms while keeping your knees glued to the floor.
3. Brace your core by squeezing your glutes, abs, and quads.
4. Maintain this position for a set amount of time before lowering to rest.
This is another variation that will help train your stability even more! It is very difficult, so be prepared.
1. Lay flat on your stomach and position your hands under your shoulders.
2. Set up as you would for a normal plank by pushing your upper body and hips off the ground with your arms. Prop yourself up on your toes as well.
3. From here, brace your core by squeezing your abs, quads, and glutes.
4. While holding this position, lift one foot off the ground. Make sure to keep your hips level and your back straight.
5. Hold this leg up for a set amount of time before switching to your other leg to repeat this movement.
Is It Better To Plank With Your Elbows or Hands?
So, is it better to plank with your elbows or your hands? The answer is, it depends. Each of these types of planks has its own specific benefits.
Traditional planks (hand planks) are generally better for total body work. They are more challenging, because there is less area of contact with the ground. Traditional planks can also help with many things, including:
• Engaging the shoulders
• Improving stability
• Postural benefits
At the same time, elbow planks are also a very effective exercise. They are used to target your core muscles more specifically. It’s a great exercise to focus on getting stronger abs. This is not to say that traditional planks will not improve your abdominal strength, but elbow planks will target them even more.
How Long Should You Hold A Plank?
How long you hold a plank really just depends on your physical capabilities. If you’re more experienced, you can likely hold a plank for longer.
Certain variations of the plank, like side planks, can be much harder to hold for a long time too. There are honestly so many factors that no one-size-fits-all answer exist. That’s why I say, hold it as long as you can through the burn.
There are some planking experts that can plank for 9 hours, 38 minutes, and 47 seconds. On the other hand, there are people who are just starting out who can only plank for 10 seconds.
Most of us, like myself, are somewhere in between! This is totally normal.
I would recommend that you plank for enough time to challenge yourself. Continue working at adding more time as you progress and get stronger. You can even make it more difficult by changing the variations that you do, or even by adding weight to some variations as well. Just make sure you are avoiding all of the common mistakes when it comes to planking.
Planking: The Most Common Mistakes
Clearly, planks are a phenomenal exercise. However, there are many things that you can focus on to keep your form strong. Otherwise, you could put yourself at risk of injury.
Don’t Let Your Hips Sag
When you start to get tired, your body can start to sag. When your body starts to get tired, gravity can start pulling you closer to the ground.
However, when you do this, your core won’t be as challenged. This can put a lot of strain on your lower back that you want to avoid.
If you start to notice this in your own planks, you have a few options. First, you could try focusing on engaging your core by squeezing your glutes, quads, and abs. If that doesn’t fix the issue, you may want to lower the amount of time you plank for.
As you build strength in your core, you’ll be able to fix this issue in no time.
Don’t Lift Your Head Up
Oftentimes, people tend to look straight forward with their head up while planking. The problem with this is that it can put a lot of strain on your neck. Eventually, this could even cause you to disengage your core.
The best way to improve this is by keeping your eyes looking down at the ground. Focus on keeping your head and neck in line with your spine at all times!
Don’t Push Your Hips Up
A lot of people will take the work out of their core by pushing their butt and hips further up into the air. Make sure this isn't you as well!
To get the full benefit of a plank, you need to make sure your body remains in a straight line. This will force you to keep your core braced and engaged the entire time. Otherwise, you're only cheating yourself!
How To Add Planks to Your Workouts
You can incorporate planks in your workout in so many different ways. The possibilities are literally endless. To keep things simple, I wanted to share a few ways to add planks to your workouts.
One way to add them is simply by tagging them at the end of your workout. A lot of people prefer saving a quick ab routine for the end of their workout. I know I do!
Another way you can include planks in your program is to add them to your circuits. You could even add different plank variations to your circuit as well. This can be a great way to break it up and add some core work to your routine.
On top of that, you can even do a plank at the end of every exercise you do. For example, I have a phase of programming where I perform 6-8 strength-based exercises. After each exercise, I hold a plank for as long as I can to build strength and stability.
So … Do You Have Any Goals?
The list of benefits when it comes to planks can go on and on. They help with strength, stability, minimizing your risk of injury, and so much more. Not to mention, there are a bunch of variations you can try at any time too.
Planks really are a great exercise no matter what your goals are. So, what are your goals? Are you looking to build muscle? Do you want to burn fat? Do you want to do some combination of both? Do you just want to improve your health?
Whatever you're trying to achieve, we're here to help! Heck, if you're looking for more ab exercises, download the 1st Phorm App! In the app, you'll get access to a full library of exercises and workout programs to help you reach your goals.
Not only that, but the app also gives you the ability to track and log your nutrition. You'll get access to your own certified advisor to keep you accountable, and get the perfect game plan in place for your goals!
If there's ever anything we can do to help out in the meantime, that's what we're here for. Reach out to our team of NASM Certified Personal Trainers and Certified Nutrition Coaches. They are available to talk to you and help you reach your goals for free! Just shoot us an email at CustomerService@1stPhorm.com or give us a call at 1-800-409-9732 anytime.
(1) Calatayud J, Escriche-Escuder A, Cruz-Montecinos C, et al. Tolerability and muscle activity of core muscle exercises in chronic low-back pain. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(19):3509. doi:10.3390/ijerph16193509