The plank is a fundamental exercise that carries over to so many other exercises like push-ups, mountain climbers, burpees, pointers and 4-counts (an 8fit favorite).
The plank is most commonly known as a core exercise, but when done correctly, it recruits almost every muscle in your body. If you’re a bit intimidated by them, don’t be. I’m going to teach you how to progress towards a proper plank and I’ll offer exercises to help you strengthen the muscles needed to get there.
If you’re already a planking pro, I’ll give you some tips on how to make them more effective and use them to improve your endurance.
Plank exercise benefits
Like I mentioned above, planks work almost every muscle in your body. In a traditional plank position, your body is in a horizontal position with weight resting on your toes and forearms or hands (just like the top position of a push up).
The main muscle group that is worked when you perform a plank is the core, however, it’s important to know that the core is more than just your abdominal muscles. The core is comprised of many other muscles including the muscles in your hip and pelvic area, as well as the muscles just below your chest, your lower back, the obliques and your glutes.
How to plank
Let’s get into proper plank form:
- Start with your body facing down on the floor and your toes curled under.
- Place your elbows directly underneath of your shoulders. Make your palms face down and your fingertips are angled forwards.
- Lift your hips and legs up by pressing your elbows and toes into the ground.
- While you’re up in this position, your body should form a straight line from your heels to the top of your head.
This variation is sometimes referred to as low plank or forearm plank. Setting up the high plank (or plank on hands) position is similar except your hands are directly underneath your shoulders and your arms are straight — just like the top of a push-up.
Tips for plank position
There are a few cues to keep in mind as you hold a plank position:
- Make sure to maintain a neutral spine and neck
- Flex every muscle in your body; with extra emphasis on your abs, lower back and glutes
- Don’t sink down into your shoulders
- Breathe slow and steady; don’t hold your breath
The tough part isn’t necessarily getting yourself into this position, it’s holding it for the desired length of time. The purpose of the exercise is to stimulate your muscles through isometric muscular contraction, which is a fancy way to say “flexing your muscles in a set position for a set amount of time.”
If you’ve given planking a shot but found it too difficult to hold, there’s huge potential for modification and progression with this exercise. Start by simply leaning up against a wall and slowly decreasing the angle of your body until your hands progress from the wall, to table-height, to chair-height and then the floor.
To get stronger and hold your plank for a longer period of time, breathing is imperative. The more you breathe, the more oxygen your muscles get for fuel. It can also help keep your mind off of the difficulty. Remember to breathe steadily. In addition to breathing, remember to engage your glute muscles. Squeeze your butt as hard as you can and you’ll see improvements in your strength and hold time. Finally, the wider your feet, the more stable you will be.
Tor’s top tip: close your eyes and go to that happy place.
Common mistakes to avoid in plank
When you’re tired or sore, it’s easy to fall into bad form. Here are some common mistakes I see:
- Hips too high
- Hips too low
- Neck not neutral (don’t look ahead)
- Shoulders rounded (keep shoulders back)
- Back not neutral (avoid rounding or hyperextension)
- Knees too bent (keep a soft knee bend)
How to hold your plank longer
One big question I’m asked is, “How long do you hold a plank?” While there is no correct answer to that question, I advise starting with 30 seconds, then work your way up to one minute. The more you practice it, the longer you’ll be able to hold.
You can also improve hold time by strengthening the different muscles recruited when you do a plank. Here are some exercises that’ll help increase your muscular strength and endurance in those muscle groupings:
- Sit ups and crunches (any variation)
- Hip-ups (any variation)
- Lower back extensions (any variation)
- Leg lifts (any variation)
- Push-ups (any variation)
Next time you see a plank in your 8fit workout plan, keep all of my cues and suggestions in mind. If you aren’t feeling strong, add the exercises above to your fitness routine and you’ll be planking like a pro in no time.