How to Do a Perfect Plank: A Comprehensive Guide

By Annie | Calisthenics and Bodyweight

What does a plank actually do? How can I do a perfect plank? These are common questions exercise fanatics and gym enthusiasts ask more often, and I guess you’re here for the answer. The plank is known as the super stiffness exercise since it generates stiffness in the abdominal wall muscles to develop a rigid core between the pelvis and rib cage. Besides, this exercise requires the muscles between the pelvic girdle and shoulder blades to fire.

How To Do A Perfect Plank

The plank exercise is a grunt-worthy, yet effective method of core conditioning and toning. Variations of plank exercises can be used across numerous fitness disciplines, including yoga, boot camp regimes, CrossFit, Pilates, and much more. While many people perform the plank exercise to strengthen their abs, the truth is that this exercise has numerous benefits including strengthening the core and other muscle groups in the lower and upper body.

​By now you’re probably brimming with excitement to get your core muscles firing but before we learn the different plank variations and the benefits of planking, let us have a look at the muscles that make up the core and the benefits of having a strong core.


What Is A Core?

When the thought of core training rings in people’s minds, their first thought is always about sculpting the “Six Pack” so they tirelessly focus on working the rectus abdominis. However, the truth is that the core is a collective term that’s used to describe the body muscles that control your waist, spine, lower back and the abdominals. It is for this reason that it’s imperative that you work these muscle groups for a super-strong core. Besides being aesthetically pleasing, a well-developed core offers excellent spinal stability and contributes to a good body posture, both of which aid in reducing back pain.

1. Rectus Abdominus

The rectus abdominus is the most popular of all core muscles. It is a long, flat muscle running from the front of your pelvis up to the ribs, and that is responsible for flexing the lumbar spine sideways and forward. Also, the rectus abdominus is also involved in forceful exhalation which is achieved through compressing the abdominal cavity to push air out of the lungs.

2. The Obliques

There are three sets of oblique muscles; the external oblique, internal oblique and transverse oblique. These muscles are located on the side of your torso, are arranged in diagonal layers and cover parts of the ribs and lower back.

The external oblique muscle is located along the front and side of the abdomen and makes up the largest section of all the abdominal muscles. This core muscle compresses the abdominal area by pulling the chest downwards besides being a crucial trunk-rotating tool.

The internal oblique is another core muscle variation that’s located along the sides and front of your abdomen, slightly above the transverse abdominis and below the external oblique. When the internal oblique is contracted, it facilitates side bending by drawing your rib cage nearer to the hips.

Located just below the internal oblique, the transverse oblique muscle is located along the front and sides of your abdominal wall and forms the deepest layer of all abdominal muscles. Although this core muscle doesn’t facilitate any body movement, it is responsible for stabilizing the spine and pelvis

3. Hip Adductors

Also referred to as the body’s support system, the hip adductors are located along the inner thigh and attach to the inside of the pelvis. This group of muscles is responsible for keeping you aligned and stable when you run or walk thus relieving pressure off your knees.

4. Spinal Erectors

This is a collective term that’s used to describe muscles that run on either side of your spine from the neck (base of skull) to the sacrum. When both sides of this group of muscles contract, they pull your spine back into extension for an upright position. When one side relaxes as the other contracts, the spine bends sideways in lateral flexion.

Most cases of back pain are as a result of subsequent injury and weakness of the lower erector spinae muscles. The erector spinae muscles often become weak due to prolonged sitting. These muscles work with your glutes to power upward-pulling exercises such as a kettlebell swing or a deadlift.

5. Gluteus Maximus

The strength of the sprint comes through the gluteus maximus, one of the body’s largest and strongest muscles located in the buttocks. The gluteus maximus not only facilitates hip and thigh movement but also other basic movements such as climbing the stairs, standing up or just maintaining an erect posture.

This muscle is connected to the pelvis and prolonged sitting in the same position can cause these muscles to stop firing properly.

6. Hamstrings

The hamstrings include three muscles running along the back of your thighs, extending from the pelvis to the top of the bones of your lower leg. These muscles include the biceps femoris, semitendinosus and semimembranosus and play a critical role on running, walking and jumping. The hamstrings facilitate movement by bending your knees and moving the hips backward.


Why Do You Need A Strong Core?

For a fact, six-pack abs are nice. However, a strong core means more than just a well-formed set of six-pack. Developing your midsection offers excellent benefits when it comes to physical health, daily function and sports performance. Besides forming a powerful axis for the whole body, here are some other benefits of a strong core.

1. Reduced Lower Back Pain

The abdominals anchor your mid and lower back muscles and when your core is weak, it forces your back muscles to work extra hard to support your back. Core strength improves the endurance of your back muscles so that you don not fatigue easily, and better yet, you’re less vulnerable to strain and injury.

Also Read : The Best Back Brace for Lower Back Pain

2. Good Posture

When your core is weak, you naturally tend to slouch since there is no musculature to support proper body alignment. A strong core facilitates good posture by aligning the spine so that it feels more natural to stand with your legs and arms in alignment.

Also Read: Find The Best Posture Corrector – All You Need To Know

3. Better Sports Performance

Almost all sports utilize the core for action and stability. You bend when taking a golf swing, twist to catch a baseball and rotate the torso when swimming, moves that all emanate from a strong core. Better yet, a rock-solid core helps you resist injury, and if the occur, the core still supports healing and recovery.

4. Builds Functional Strength

Simple moves such as bending to tie a shoe or pick up an object can be a nightmare if you have a weak midsection. Getting up and down out of a seat, twisting and lifting all require the strength of your core. In addition, a strong core makes household chores like scrubbing the floor or mopping easier since you can stand, crouch or bend with great ease.

5. Better Body Balance

Balance is not all about walking on a tight rope or standing on one leg. Body balance is essential whether you’re riding on a rough road or walking on a bumpy trail. A strong, resilient core makes such activities easy and more pleasant to perform in addition to preventing falls.

Although core strength training can be a nightmare for many, the benefits of a strong core make planking a good body strength exercise. If you’re among the individuals who hear the work “planks” and let out an exhausted groan, worry no more because you’re about to discover the benefits you can reap from the plank exercise.


How Can You Benefit From the Plank Exercise

With exercise, some of the simplest of movements result in the greatest gains in your fitness, and it’s certainly the case with planks. There is a perfect reason why most trainers cite planks as one of the best exercises. The posture is simple, yet practical and functional. Better yet, you can perform this exercise just about anywhere, and variety abounds.

1. Planks Safely Strengthen your Core

Planks alone will not give you the much-desired six-pack, but when paired with total body strength exercises and a quality diet, planks aid in developing a definition in your midsection.

  • By performing plank exercises, you work all the muscles that make up the core and reap all the benefits that come with developing a strong core.
  • Plank exercises work the inner core muscles, such as the transversus abdominis, which creates the foundation for developing a stronger, well-defined rectus abdominis – which is the front layer of abs you admire in the mirror.
  • For individuals with existing back pain or disc issues, planks are far much safer that crunches since you do not have to flex your spine.

2. Prevent Muscle Imbalances

Performing abdominal exercises such as sit-ups can cause you to develop muscle imbalances easily. A majority of individuals fail to perform gluteal and spinal strengthening exercises to compensate for their weak abdominal muscles.

  • What gives planks an upper hand over other abdominal exercises is that they condition the back and front of the body simultaneously.
  • When the front and back body muscles are simultaneously developed, the result is better spinal support, good posture, and minimal lower-back pain.

3. Better Body Posture

Performing abdominal exercises such as sit-ups can cause you to develop muscle imbalances easily. A majority of individuals fail to perform gluteal and spinal strengthening exercises to compensate for their weak abdominal muscles.

  • When the muscles in this trunk section are strong, you will naturally stand up straighter and have a better body posture.
  • The right body posture means that your bones are properly aligned, your breathing is optimized, and the nervous system is functioning properly.
  • Besides, good body posture promotes proper operation of the internal organs, including those of the digestive tract.

4. Planks Aid in Reducing Back Pain

Performing planks helps you acquire a better body posture and as a result improved back health. From a medical perspective, good body posture aids in keeping the spine’s ligaments and vertebrae aligned and healthy.

  • Since planks work and strengthen the abdominal muscles, the burden of supporting your posture and holding you in an upright position is not left entirely to the back muscles.
  • With stronger abs, you can sit upright with your vertebrae stacked, and you are less likely to suffer from shoulder and neck pains associated with slouching in abnormal positions.

5. Body Movement and Coordination Is Improved

The greatest selling point for planks is their importance when it comes to functional body movement and coordination. The plank position and its variations train your body to rely on the abdominal muscles for stabilization

  • The strong abs developed from planking make you more efficient when you’re either running, swimming, hiking or cycling. This is because your legs and arms must not do all the propulsion work hence you will last longer and resist injuries that result from the overuse of a single muscle group.
  • Besides, planking strengthens the entire core, thus conditions the body to function as a unit rather than an assemblage of individual units.

6. Strengthen the Arms

All plank variation exercises are performed while resting on your arms making them an excellent way to strengthen your muscles. If you are looking for a sleeve bursting exercise that equal to doing push-ups or cranking on your Olympic weight bench, then planks are the way to go.

7. Perfect for Weight Loss

While aerobic exercises are greatly preferred for weight loss, the truth is that planking is a clever way to shed the extra weight, particularly around the mid-section.

  • Planking exerts pressure on the abdomen and waist area which aids in losing weight.
  • Also, planking helps burn fats around your thighs and legs as you try to stretch out for a good planking position.

8. Improves Your Respiratory Function

Planking usually involves breathing in and holding your breath for a few seconds before exhaling, a practice synonymous with yoga.

  • This breathing in and out helps increase the volume of your lungs thus helping asthma patients breathe effortlessly.
  • Better yet, the deep breathing associated with planking prevents ailments associated with shallow breathing.

9. Reduces Stress

Besides the physical, there are also mental benefits associated with planking. Research reveals that planking helps reduce worry and anxiety and ultimately daily stress.

  • If you feel depressed most of the time, take some time of your schedule to do some planks and you’ll have yourself to thank.
  • Planking puts you in an overall better mood, just what you need for a productive day.

10. Offer a Safe Yet Effective Alternative to Sit-ups and Crunches

Although crunches and sit-ups are basic functional exercises for our daily life, they are never the best core conditioning exercises for everyone.

  • Unlike planking, sit-ups and crunches only work muscles that make up the front of your core, so you will still need to perform some back strengthening exercises.
  • Also, sit-ups and crunches exert much pressure on the spine through repetitive extension and flexion of the back, which can result in back problems. To avoid such discomforts, it is advisable to make planks a useful substitute since they are much safer.

11. Planks Offer Versatile Exercise

The most exciting aspect about plank exercises is that there are numerous exercise variations which you can perform, ranging from the side and traditional plank variations to planks with weights.

The most exciting aspect about plank exercises is that there are numerous exercise variations which you can perform, ranging from the side and traditional plank variations to planks with weights.

Who Should Or Should Not Perform Plank Exercises

Plank exercises are gaining popularity in the fitness arena due to their applicability and simplicity. They involve moving the body in different dimensions and angles for a well-toned core. Unlike other forms of exercise, there is no limitation to the people who should or should not plank. This exercise can be performed by anyone from children to old people and from athletes to people with injuries.

Planking can be extremely beneficial to seniors who cannot work out at the gym or run in the open. Incorporating this exercise in their fitness regime can help stretch their body to keep them flexible and agile even as age catches up with them.

Also, improved physical activity is one of the best ways through which people with arthritis can boost their health. Planking is crucial for such individuals since it helps alleviate joint pain, increases flexibility and strength, and aids in combating fatigue. While arthritis can threaten your mobility, plank exercises will keep you moving all day.


What You Need To Prepare For a Plank

Just like any other form of exercise, it is important to prepare adequately for a plank. Proper preparation for a plank exercise can be the difference between a long plank time and a poorly conducted plank exercise. Here’s how you should prepare for a plank:

Warm Up Your Body

Although plank exercises are isolated to one muscle group – the core, warming up is a good way to prepare your body for this impending challenge. With a warmer body, you are able to easily perform different plank variations with minimal chances of being injured as you try to stabilize or twist.

Planks involve lots of dynamic moves and performing these moves when you’re not warmed up only invites more body injuries. Whether you’ll be performing your planks for an hour or just five minutes, warming up is prudent. You can combine some light cardio to increase your body temperature and get the blood flowing – and perform some dynamic moves to activate the muscles you’ll be working during your planking session.

Equipment

Technically speaking, you rarely need any equipment to perform plank exercises. All the same, there are some variations of equipment that you can use to make your exercise session run smoother.

Slip-resistant Shoes.

When it comes to planking, you probably need a pair of shoes that will get you hitting the floor all morning – slip-resistant shoes. Slip-resistant shoes are a crucial planking accessory because they increase traction using their special tread design and sole materials. Although many people prefer wearing socks for a planking session, the truth is that your feet may not hold their position as long as they would do in slip-resistant shoes, probably because of sweating.

Yoga or Exercise mat.

Besides having a comfortable pair of slip-resistant shoes, it is also a good idea to have access to an exercise mat before planking. An exercise mat provides padding for your elbows for optimal comfort and longer planking times.

Towel.

Although many people do not find it important, a towel is another important accessory to have before you go planking. Just like other forms of exercise, planking increases the body’s metabolism so you need something to wipe away the sweat on your hands or forehead.

Stability Ball.

While it is not a great necessity for a successful planking session, the stability ball can come in handy for individuals who want to perform different plank variations. You can perform plank variations by resting your feet on the stability ball or balance with your hands placed on the ball.

Timer.

If you like keeping track of your planking time, a timer can also be an important accessory for your workout. Tracking the length of each plank can help you determine the amount of calories burnt and the plank position you can hold for the longest period.


Perfect Your Plank With This Guide

There are dozens of plank variation you can choose to perform for a rock-solid core. Besides, you should always remember that irrespective of your fitness goals you are not entirely limited to a single plank exercise because plank exercises are meant for the core since they build isometric strength and improve your posture. Whether you opt to do the basic plank, the knee plank or side plank, you will benefit greatly as long as it’s safe.

Here are the top 13 easiest, yet effective plank exercises that will work your core irrespective of your fitness level.

1. The Basic Plank

How to Do a Perfect Plank

The basic plank is the most popular plank variation exercise, the easiest and most basic version of this body-weight move.

  • Start by resting on all fours, and maintain a straight body from head to toe.
  • With your palms firmly planted on the floor, get off your knees onto your toes, with your hands directly below your shoulders.
  • Now maintain a tight core while squeezing through your chest and quads to support your core and make the hold a lot easier.
  • When performing the basic plank, you maintain a straight body position in a stationary hold, without any movement. This is the easiest plank for optimal core conditioning.

Some of the most common faults that occur when performing the basic plank include: improper alignment of the wrists and shoulders, butt lifted higher than the head and sagging the lower back.

2. Forearm Plank

How to Do a Perfect Plank

The forearm plank is what’s commonly referred to as the standard plank. Besides being a yoga pose that ignites your body the forearm plank is excellent for:

  • Core conditioning
  • Shoulder stabilization
  • Stretching your calves, shoulders, and hamstrings as well as the arches of your feet.
  • Preparing the body for awesome inversions and arm balances.
  • Start by kneeling on all fours then rest your elbows on your exercise mat.
  • The elbows should be right below your shoulders. Your feet need to be hip-width apart whereas the elbows need to be shoulder-width apart.
  • Clasp your hands together and ensure your body is in a straight line from the head to toe.
  • Hold in this position for your desired time or plank in intervals.

3. Knee Plank

How to Do a Perfect Plank

Since the knee plank is easier to hold than the straight arm plank, it is an excellent choice for beginners.

  • Start by lying face down with your legs together and arms at shoulder-width.
  • Now tighten the core and lift your upper body off the round while stabilizing yourself with the forearms.
  • Make sure your knees remain on the ground, for minimal stress on your lower back.

Planking from the knees not only offers excellent lower body support but also increases stability in the core since you’re not holding up much weight, and there’s less stress on the shoulders.

4. Side Plank

How to Do a Perfect Plank

The side plank is quite different from other plank variations because it involves working with only one point of support on both feet and hands. Even though this plank variation feels challenging for some people, others prefer it because it’s more supportive. Since one uses the forearm, there is more contact with the floor as opposed to using the palms alone. The benefits of the side plank include:

  • Building strength in the obliques
  • Shoulder stabilization
  • Improved core control.
  • Strengthens the thighs, butt and wrists.
  • Lie on one side with your legs stacked on each other
  • Align your shoulder directly above your elbow
  • Then prop your body up on the elbow or hand while keeping your feet stacked.
  • Extend the arm of your lifted side straight up

To make the plank more difficult, you can raise the opposing arm, leg or even both in the air. You can also make the move easier by crossing the upper leg in front of your body for extra support. This plank variation presents the most basic way to sculpt the side body.

5. Single Leg Plank

How to Do a Perfect Plank

The single leg plank exercise is a rather challenging modification of the traditional plank which offers more contraction in the core as a result of the body’s unstable position.

  • Begin in the push-up position with your hands right under the shoulders and legs extended far behind the body at hip-width.
  • In this position, your body should form a straight line from heel to heel.
  • Contract the abs, squeeze your thighs and slowly lift one foot off the floor
  • Maintain the position for your desired time then switch to the next leg to repeat.

6. Swiss Ball Plank

How to Do a Perfect Plank

The Swiss ball plank is an advanced plank variation and modification of the basic plank that increases your exercise intensity and makes a fairly simple exercise more challenging. Since the Swiss ball is an unstable surface, planking on it engages more muscles across your entire core, muscles from the shoulders, back to the toes.

  • Building strength in the obliques
  • Shoulder stabilization
  • Improved core control.
  • Strengthens the thighs, butt and wrists.
  • Start by getting into the plank position with your toes on the floor and forearms in the Swiss ball.
  • Contract your abs, squeeze the glutes
  • Maintain a straight back so that your body forms a straight line from the head to your feet.
  • Hold onto this position for as long as possible without arching or sagging at the hips.

To make this plank variation more difficult, you can keep your feet close together or lift one of your feet off the floor. On the flip side, you can reduce the difficulty of this exercise by spreading your feet wide apart for a larger support base.

7. The Reverse Plank

How to Do a Perfect Plank

Just like other plank variations, the reverse plank offers an excellent way to strengthen the core. It is particularly good for:

  • The hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Lower back muscles.

Better yet, the reverse plank stretches your legs, hands, shoulders, abdomen, biceps and helps improve your flexibility. Also, the reverse plank can be an excellent rehab exercise for better spinal and core stabilization.

  • Begin by resting on the floor with your butt and with your legs in front of you.
  • Place your hands on the floor just behind the hips.
  • After that, push and lift up your body until it forms a straight line from the head to your toes.
  • Engage your core muscles as you support your body in that position

Be sure to keep your legs and arms straight, not forgetting to brace your abs as well for about 30 seconds.

8. Superman Plank

How to Do a Perfect Plank

source: Youtube

How to Do a Perfect Plank

source: Youtube

If you intend to make your planking routine a bit tougher, you can incorporate some superhero exercise – the Superman plank. This plank variation is harder than other plank exercises and is recommended for individuals who are in the intermediate level of planking. The Superman plank offers all benefits of the regular plank and offers an extra challenge to your body balance by reducing the number of limbs in contact with the ground.

  • Begin in the standard plank position.
  • Support your body in a straight line with the toes and forearms.
  • While maintaining that position, slowly lift and stretch one arm and the opposite leg.
  • Be sure to raise your limbs to a parallel position with the ground so that your body is well-balanced.
  • Hold in this position for as long as you can then return to the starting position to repeat on the other side.

See more on this video:

9. Dolphin Plank

How to Do a Perfect Plank

source: Youtube

The dolphin plank is a yoga hybrid that works your shoulders, abs and back. If you are looking to target multiple muscle groups in the body, then this strength training exercise is what you need. In this plank variation exercise, there’s the intentional lifting of the but higher than the head and heels to a position you will then maintain a static hold. This plank exercise not only aids in developing your upper body strength but also trains you to draw the abdominal muscles in and up.

  • Get in a straight body position from the head to heels with your shoulders positioned over your forearms.
  • Then try walking your feet as close to your knees as possible as you lift through your glutes and abs.
  • Maintain a static hold while at the same time squeezing through your quads to aid in supporting the abs
  • Keep you gazing neutrally towards the floor.

See more on this video:

10. Single-Arm Plank

How to Do a Perfect Plank

source: Youtube

If you’re looking for a plank variation that will test your strength and balance, then the single-arm plank is what you should try. The single-arm plank works the upper-back muscles including the traps, lats and rear deltoids.

Besides, since you’ll perform this plank variation with one arm before changing to the other, you will keep the tension on your working muscles longer, which can result in better muscle gains for the back. Better yet, this move hammers your core perfectly.

  • Begin in the full plank position, a straight body position and shoulders above your wrists.
  • Try shifting your weight to one side as you place one hand behind your back
  • Press firmly on the palm that’s on the ground to stabilize the working shoulder.

It is advisable to maintain the hips and shoulders square to the floor through your entire movement, with your feet wider than hip width.

11. Spiderman Plank

How to Do a Perfect Plank

source: Youtube

The spiderman is just a variation of the full plank in which you walk your feet and hands wider than the hips and shoulders while still maintaining a static hold. This plank exercise is mostly felt in the chest so try to squeeze those muscles for a longer plank time.

  • Start in the full plank position with a straight body position from your head to the heels
  • Stack the shoulders above your wrists.
  • Try to walk your feet and hands wider than your hip and shoulder width respectively, with your fingertips facing out and the elbows slightly bent.
  • Try to maintain a tight core by squeezing through your quads.
  • Also, squeeze through your chest to support the core and make your hold easier.

12. Donkey Kicks

How to Do a Perfect Plank

The donkey kick is a plank variation that targets your hamstrings, abdominals, hip flexors, and glutes. Normally, this plank exercise should be performed in a straight body posture. However, it can also be performed on the knees to make it easier.

  • Get in the full plank position gazing down the floor and with your shoulders right above the wrists.
  • Bend one leg at the knee and lift it behind you with the heel pointed vertically upwards.
  • By engaging your glutes and hamstrings, try and maintain the leg in that position for as long as you can
  • Now lower the heel back down for another rep.
  • Ensure that your butt does not rise above the torso or the hips do not sag.

13. Inchworm Plank

How to Do a Perfect Plank

Unlike other plank variations that require you to hold your body in a static position, the inchworm plank exercise introduces a walking motion with your hands. This plank variation not only stretches your hamstrings but also requires intense core control. Besides being an excellent core-conditioning exercise, the inchworm plank is also an excellent warm up exercise.

  • Start by getting in the full plank position while maintaining a straight body position.
  • While keeping your knees straight, try to draw your abs inwards
  • Walk your hands back towards the feet.
  • Once your hands are at your feet, you can stand up or walk your hands back to the original plank position.

This plank variation is excellent for lengthening and stretching your body before a workout.


How to Improve Your Planking Time

Planks are an excellent strength and recovery exercise for individuals who love high intensity interval training. Better yet, planks can be done almost anywhere, require little equipment, and become easier with time. Besides being a core heaven, planks are an excellent workout for multiple muscle groups too, especially when they are done properly.

The longer you can hold in the plank position, the better your abs will look and the more resilient your lower back will be to injury. Here are some tips that will help you improve your planking time:

1. Practice More

There is never an accurate maxim than practice makes perfect. For a beginner, the first plank might seem like a torture, but after a few weeks to planking, you will casually hold in the plank position for a minute or two without breaking a sweat. Planking more helps build endurance and muscle strength which goes a long way in improving your planking time.

2. Flip the Timer Over

There is nothing more demoralizing than starring those seconds tick by in the slowest possible way. It is advisable to set an alarm, so you’ll know when you are done and keep your mind occupied with something else. If you must peek to check whether your plank period is almost over, turn it over quickly, check, then turn it over.

3. Get Something to Distract Your Brain

Whether you will go for a magazine or newspaper, try to stick it right in front of your face to get your mind absorbed. Ensure that the piece you’ll be reading is long enough otherwise you’ll end up in frustration when you have to start over again even before your plank time is over.

4. Push Yourself Extra Hard

Just when you think you cannot withstand the worked abs, turn on to the side and perform a side plank. This will be such a sweet relief after two minutes in the front plank and you will not even realize the seconds going by. The side plank will aid in strengthening most of the muscle groups worked by the front plank meaning that you can perform a four-minute set that you wouldn’t have completed in the front plank.

Apart from including some side planks, you can also try to go for an extra ten seconds even when the timer goes off. By holding for an extra ten seconds, you’ll get the mental power to push yourself further than your actual planking time.

5. Use body-weight Exercises

For you to increase your planking time, it is important that you indulge in body-weight exercises. Exercise variations such as pull-ups and pushups improve your core strength and as a result, a longer planking time in the long run.

What People Go Wrong and How to Fix

Whether you love them or hate them, planks are the ultimate test of core strength. Moreover, planks are just about the easiest exercise ever and when done properly, you can work your shoulders, obliques, chest, abs, butt and hips. Better yet, you do not even have to move.

When it comes to planking, it is not always the plank variation you do that matters, it is how you perform it. To help you get the most out of your plank exercises, I’ll share some common planking mistakes and how to fix them.

1. Reaching The Butt High In The Air

People often tend to raise their butts high in the air while planking since it helps them hold onto the pose for a long period. While sticking your butt high in the air guarantees you a longer planking time, it exerts excess pressure on your shoulders and you do not have to hold your core tightly. This is a planking mistake that often results in shoulder and neck pain.

  • Planks are not supposed to look like a yoga pose. To get your core working as it should in the plank position, keep your back flat and butt down so that it is aligned with your shoulders and heels.

2. Collapsing the Lower Back

People often tend to raise their butts high in the air while planking since it helps them hold onto the pose for a long period. While sticking your butt high in the air guarantees you a longer planking time, it exerts excess pressure on your shoulders and you do not have to hold your core tightly. This is a planking mistake that often results in shoulder and neck pain.

  • Planks are not supposed to look like a yoga pose.
  • To get your core working as it should in the plank position, keep your back flat and butt down so that it is aligned with your shoulders and heels.

3. Collapsing the Lower Back

When you collapse or arch your lower back, you tend to rely on the spinal ligaments and vertebrae instead of the core muscles for support. This planking misstep often results in lower back pain.

  • To avoid collapsing your back while planking, try to engage your core by imagining that the belly button is pulling in towards your spine.
  • Additionally, you can slightly tilt your pelvis which will keep the torso flat for a safe spine.
  • If you find it hard to maintain a flat back, have someone place a broomstick on your back, with its top touching your head and the bottom resting between your buttocks.
  • If you’re properly aligned, the stick should rest perfectly right between the shoulder blades.

4. Letting the Head and Neck Drop

Irrespective of the plank variation you are performing, the head and neck should always be in neutral alignment with the back. Your head should not tilt forward because it disrupts your spinal alignment. Dropping your head also puts a strain on your neck and as a result, the rest of your form will fall apart.

  • To avoid this mistake, try view your head and neck just as an extension of the straight line that is created by your body from the heels to your shoulders.
  • It’s advisable to stare about one foot in front of your hands to help keep your head in a neutral position. A dropped head will cause pain in the neck or upper back.

5. Lowering your Hips

As you plank, your arm and abdominal muscles may start to fatigue and as a result, your hips will start to sink. When your hips sink towards the floor, you will not properly engage your abdominal muscles but rather rely on your lower back for support. While it’s easier to rely on your spinal cord instead of the core muscles for support, it is dangerous as well.

  • To correct this mistake, try lengthening the tailbone towards the back as you press the front of your thighs upwards.
  • You can also try walking your feet out apart for a more stable base, as you take deep breaths to engage the abdominals.

6. Rounding the Upper Back

A rounded upper back is an indicator of hunched up shoulders. In most cases, people make this mistake in an attempt to compensate for their weak core muscles. Rounding the upper back allows individuals with weak core muscles to plank for a longer period, at the expense of the shoulders, neck and upper back.

  • To correct this planking mistake, move your shoulder blades down and away from your ears as you open your chest.
  • In addition, you can also contract your lats and traps to prevent the upper back and shoulders from rounding.

7. Positioning Your Hands Too Far Apart

For individuals who are just getting started with planks, there is the tendency to place their hands too far apart. Although it’s a good way to have optimal body stability during planking, it is a mistake that prevents you from getting the most out of your plank exercises.

  • When planking, you should always have your wrists and elbows positioned directly under your shoulders.
  • Stacking your elbows and wrists underneath the shoulders protects them from pain that can adversely affect your plank and continue to ache many hours later.

8. Forgetting to Breathe

Many people have been deluded into thinking that holding their breath during a workout is a good way to get the most out of their training. While this may be a trick in some strength training exercises, it does not work for plank exercises. In fact, holding your breath while planking is a mistake you should avoid at all costs.

  • Although it is perfectly normal for people to hold their breath when performing a strenuous workout, it denies your body the much-needed oxygen and can result in nausea or dizziness.
  • While planking, be sure to maintain a regular breathing pattern and you’ll get the most out of your isometric exercise.

Takeaway Message

For sure, very few people get excited about doing planks. While people may claim that planking is not okay for the abs, the truth is that this basic isometric exercise strengthens the entire body – makes your core pop, builds your shoulders, and strengthens the lower back. What’s even more exciting about this deceptively simple exercise is that not much equipment is required.

As mentioned earlier, the effectiveness of planks does not depend on the plank variation you perform but how you do it. Proper technique is crucial and can be the difference between well-toned abs and excess belly fat. Finally, always begin with easy plank exercises before indulging in more advanced plank variations.


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(8) comments

Dana a few months ago

By far the most comprehensive article regarding Planks!
Planking has so many benefits and can be done at any age and at any fitness level, I strongly recommend it for pregnant fitness exercise as it strengthens the core.
Nicely done Annie!

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