Planking is one of the simplest, but most effective bodyweight exercise. Holding your body stiff develops strength primarily in the core—the muscles that connect the upper and lower body—as well as the shoulders, arms, and glutes.
This static exercise—meaning the body stays in one position for the entirety of the move—requires no equipment and can be performed just about anywhere (well, use your judgment). Find out how to perfect your plank and fix some of the most common planking mistakes with this guide.
- Develops “functional” core strength for everyday activities
- Improves your posture
- Improves stability
- Increases upper body strength
- Strengthens hips and pelvic floor
- Increases low back strength and reduces risk of injury
The “Plank Test”
If you’re able to hold a plank for at least two minutes, it’s a pretty good sign that you’re fairly fit. If can’t, you’re likely lacking core strength, which is important for your overall movement stability and strength. It can also be a good indication that you’re carrying too much weight and you could benefit from dropping a few pounds.
The “Basic” Plank
1. Plant the hands under the shoulders, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, like you’re about to do a push-up.
2. Ground your toes into the floor and squeeze your glutes to stabilize your body. Do not lock or hyper-extend your knees.
3. Your neck should be in a natural position by looking at a spot on the floor about a foot beyond the hands. Your head should be in line with your back.
4. Hold the position for 20 seconds or longer. As you get stronger, hold your plank for as long as possible without compromising form or breath.
The “Forearm” Plank
This variation is also one of the most common ways to perform a plank. It’s slightly easier than holding the body up with just your hands. Start by placing the forearms on the ground with the elbows aligned below the shoulders and arms parallel to the body at about shoulder-width apart. You can clasp your hands together if facing your palms down bothers your wrists.
Common Mistakes & Fixes
1. Dropping the hips or head
The Fix: Engage your core muscles by pulling your belly button in toward your spine. This will help keep the torso flat and the spine safe. Also, Keep your eyes on the floor, looking about a foot in front of the hands, which will help keep the neck in a neutral position.A good way to test your form is to get a friend to gently place a broomstick on your back. The top of the stick should make contact with the head, shoulder blades and, again, between the butt cheeks.
2. Lifting your bottom
The Fix: Planks aren’t supposed to look like a downward dog. To really get the core working the way it should in the plank position, keep your back flat enough so your abs feel engaged from top (right below the sternum) to bottom (directly below the belt). Just don’t dip the tush too far toward the ground.
4. Holding your breathe
The Fix: Remember to breathe. It’s only natural to hold your breath, but preventing oxygen during a plank can cause dizziness or nausea, which are unpleasant at best and dangerous at worst.
5. Focusing too much on time
The Fix: Proper form is key over length of time. Quality definitely trumps the number of seconds you can hold your plank, so when your form begins to break, it’s time to call it quits. If your back begins to bow or your shoulders start to sink, it’s time to take a break.