The plank is by far the simplest bodyweight exercise you could do just about anywhere. With no dependency on any equipment or a perfect condition to plank, this exercise strengthens the cores, glutes, and shoulders as a whole.
However, contrary to its simplicity, it’s not guaranteed to be the easiest. In fact, the plank exercise accounts for more than just planking on your elbows until you get bored or time’s up. There are vital factors to consider, such as the alignment of your spine and for how long to hold the plank to achieve its maximum effectiveness.
When done right, the plank results in core strength, improved posture, and toned arms, all while strengthening the key postural muscles and reducing back pain, especially for frequent desk sitters. With all that said, this article aims to teach the proper plank position, list variations and alternatives, and share its many benefits for your everyday fitness and health.
This Ultimate Guide Will Cover:
- How To Do A Plank In Correct Form
- 4 Benefits Of Plank
- Common Planking Mistakes To Avoid
- Basic Plank Muscles Worked
- Planking vs Lunges
- Our Trainer’s Suggested Planking Reps, Sets, & Programs
- Plank Variations
- Plank Alternative Exercises
How To Do A Plank
The plank is typically performed on the bare floor using bodyweight.
- Weight Plates: You may add a weight plate of your chosen volume on your back to increase the intensity and activate your core further.
- Exercise Mat: You may place an exercise mat underneath to protect your elbows from chafes and keep your toes perfectly in place without slipping off from the position.
Step 1: Find Your Position
Lying face down, prop your elbows on the floor at a 90º angle with the back in a neutral position and the legs straight with the toes tipped over the floor. Avoid hunching your back or dipping your hips underneath to avoid putting stress on your shoulder or lower back. Align your neck and head with your hips with a straight line and look long and low. Focus on keeping your shoulder blades back and together toward the midline of your body.
If you find it difficult to balance with your feet touching each other, you may opt for a hip-width foot distance for better stability and assistance to the torso. You may also close your fits if you find it challenging to keep your hands flat on the mat.
Step 2: Engage Your Core
As you find your position, remember to engage your core and keep your back neutral to avoid back pains or shoulder strains. While at it, activate your glutes, triceps, quads, and hamstrings as well. Use your core strength for balance and your glutes for power.
Step 3: Hold the Position Until the Recommended Time
Every individual has a different threshold for static holds. When it comes to planks, beginners may opt for at least 30 seconds of plank hold, while more advanced lifters may do more than 60 seconds or 1 minute as long as the plank is executed with proper form.
4 Benefits of Planks
1. Planking Improves Core Strength
The core plays a huge role in maintaining a rigid form throughout any exercise there is. It is especially vital in performing loaded movements with ease. By doing planks, you can improve your core strength and maximize it for use over a longer period. Your brace is also better, and you could feel a decrease in stress on your joints by activating the right muscles.
2. Promotes Better Range of Motion
As mentioned, we use the core with almost everything we do, be it exercise or doing everyday things. The core is essential in assisting in movement, endurance, strength, and power. The plank exercise specifically promotes spiral and pelvic stabilization. By performing its variations, the plank also strengthens the obliques, abs, and underlying core muscles.
3. Healthy Posture
If the majority of your day is spent sitting, then you most likely have compromised posture unless you are keen on keeping a straight back throughout the day, regardless of your activity. However, if posture is one of your health concerns, then you might be glad to know that planking can reduce those worries and enable you to have a proper gait.
4. Improves Body Alignment
Some plank variations such as Plank Hip Dip, Side Plank, and Spiderman Plank not only help with mobility and flexibility but with body alignment as well. Some alternatives like the Bird Dog Plank also assist in determining weak areas or asymmetries by using both sides of the body in an alternating fashion.
Common Planking Mistakes to Avoid
Arching the back or dipping the hips
This wrong form typically occurs when the abdominal muscles are not engaged properly. This compromises the lower back and strips the activation from the core as well as the glutes.
Dropping the head or looking up
Planks heavily rely on the deep core muscles to shift the spine to alignment. Connected to the spine is the head, which should be kept in a straight line with respect to the whole posterior chain.
Dropping the head or looking up shifts the focus from the abs to the shoulders or the lower back – either way, that shouldn’t be preferred. To correct this form, the eye line should be long and low, the chest open and the shoulders rigidly positioned behind the ears.
Rounding the back
This incorrect form puts unnecessary strain on the shoulders and on the upper back without activating a strong core. This also prevents having the torso straight and properly aligned with the hips and legs.
Plank Muscles Worked
- Transverse Abdominus
- Rectus Abdominus
The primary muscle that immediately receives the most benefits of planking is the Transverse Abdominus which are the muscles that stabilize the core during exercises. Followed by the Rectus Abdominus, also known as “the six-pack”, are the same Muscles used heavily during Deadlifts, Squats, and other loaded exercises. These muscles are on the surface of the whole core muscle group. It contracts to keep the spine neutral and stable. You might be surprised that the glutes also play a role in planks.
These muscles help with positioning and provide performance-enhancing cues to make holding a plank more efficient and effective while targeting all the right muscles.
Planking vs Lunges
Planks and Lunges may not be similar exercises, yet they work on the same muscle groups, including the glutes, core, and legs.
While the plank position is done with a straight body from the head to toes and the spine neutral, the lunge involves one knee forward and aligned with the ankle while the shoulders are parallel to the hips.
When it comes to the specific steps to perform the exercise, the plank is held in a static position. This means staying stationary while the core is properly engaged. Meanwhile, the lunge can be done in a static or dynamic method. It could be performed on one side all throughout and then switched to the other or to be lunged one leg at a time.
The muscles involved in plank mainly include the glutes, core, and a little bit of the legs, arms, and shoulders. On the other hand, lunges primarily work on the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps. When done with weights or dumbbells, this also works on the shoulders, biceps, and triceps.
Our Trainer’s Suggested Sets and Programs:
For Core Strength
Gaining core strength occurs with the right combination of loaded and bodyweight planks. By constantly challenging your core muscles, you can progressively lift heavier in loaded exercises like deadlift, squat, and even bodyweight movements like Pull-Ups. Perform 40 to 60 sec. of plank for 2 to 3 sets with a rest period of 60 to 90 seconds in between.
For Muscle Endurance
The trick for muscle endurance is to perform the exercise in a longer duration or with an increased time under tension. For planks, you can up your endurance by performing 1 to 2 minutes of planks for 2 to 4 sets. The ideal rest period is 30 to 60 seconds in between.
The forearm plank we’re familiar with is a fuss-free bodyweight exercise that can be performed anywhere with a flat and safe flooring. You can also challenge yourself by choosing from a myriad of plank variations that will effectively burn your core and give you chiseled abs.
Also known as a standard plank, this variation imitates the starting phase of a push-up position but with the arms shoulder-width apart. This variation effectively activates and stretches the core, shoulders, legs, and lower back while increasing stability and improving posture. With the palms face down and steady on the floor, this strengthens the wrists further.
Ab Roller Plank
Stretching out your core muscles is completely achievable with the ab roller plank. All in all, it works on the rectus abdominis, upper back, lats, and front shoulders. You could consider it a great upper body workout with minimal equipment.
The spiderman plank is as challenging as it looks. On a positive note, this gives a massive improvement in hip mobility while aligning the body and improving one’s posture. It gives a different kind of burn than a traditional plank yet works on the core and other muscles nonetheless.
Contrary to first impressions, there’s more to box planks than simply going on all fours. When done correctly, this activates the core, lats, shoulders, and lower abs most especially. You can level it up by going tiptoe and suspending your knees in the air. This challenges your stability and core strength while maintaining a straight line across your torso.
Plank Hip Dip
If working on your obliques is more up your alley, then you would love the plank hip dip variation. The form begins with a traditional plank position with the elbows directly propped on the floor. By dipping your hips alternatingly on each side, your core muscles are forced to work hard while maintaining a strong posture that doesn’t faze.
By and large, the L-Sit hold is the most challenging plank alternative you might ever come across. This is especially true for novice lifters and amateur calisthenics beginners. It requires great strength in the isometric core and hip flexor, all while putting significant work on your obliques.
Bird Dog Plank
Unlike a forearm plank position, the bird dog plank takes on a higher position. The left arm is raised together with the right leg and alternatingly with the other side. By doing so, this exercise reinforces core stability while incorporating the shoulders and hips, one side at a time. You can modify it into an easier position by going down on your knees.
Looking at this alternative may seem like it’s a walk in the park, but it’s even more challenging than a forearm plank. Instead of lying face down, the body is suspended on benches (one by the head and the other by the legs) with the individual facing the ceiling. By holding a rigid pose, this enforced strong hollow hold and proper back extension that neither dips nor arches.