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The right way to do a plank – plus mistakes to avoid and variations to switch things up

A man of color wearing a gray hoodie does a plank outdoors
Content Editor & Certified Trainer
Lisa studied journalism and is a certified fitness and health trainer, as well as a meditation coach! She spent many years working for different lifestyle and fitness magazines, and she writes articles for us on the topics of working out, fitness, lifestyle and mind.

The plank is definitely one of the most effective whole-body exercises without extra weights. It focuses on your abs and back, leading to a firm, strong core – but you have to do it correctly.

What Is a Plank?

It looks simple, but it’s both demanding and effective: the plank is one of the best bodyweight exercises for training the whole body. “Bodyweight” because you don’t need to use any extra weights: Variations keep your workouts both dynamic and strenuous.

The name “plank” refers to the form you take during the exercise: Supported on your forearms (or hands) and facing the ground, your head, shoulders, abdomen, hips, and legs form one line which makes you flat, like a plank.

Because you hold this position stable, it’s also a “holding exercise”. To keep from losing your balance, you have to keep your entire body engaged

Planking, a shorter way to say “doing a plank”, is used in many different disciplines – in both amateur and competitive sports. It’s standard in functional training, but it’s also used as a supplement to weight training or in combat sports like boxing.


What’s the Plank Good For?

The plank is one of the most effective abdominal muscle exercises out there, because it focuses on your core, training it isometrically, i.e. by just maintaining muscle tension.

A woman with brown hair and medium-toned skin does a plank on a mat.
©jacoblund

But it’s not just about the muscle groups in your washboard abs: In addition to your core, this exercise strengthens your legs, hips, and glutes, as well as your shoulders, chest, neck, and arms. In short, this exercise is the perfect whole-body workout.

Why is it important to train your core?

The muscles in our body’s core are involved in most of our movements: Without core strength we aren’t able to hold ourselves upright, let alone stand up, move, bend, stretch, and rotate. In addition, your core muscles strengthen your spine, which helps prevent back pain and tension. Plus: your core transfers power from your lower to your upper body and vice versa, so it’s important for upping your performance during workouts – whether you’re a runner or weightlifter.


Fired up and ready to get started? With our free foodspring workouts you can train at home in a focused and effective way, since they’re tailored to your goals and your fitness level. It’s your choice: Pick from many different workouts!

check out our free Workouts

Overview: planking’s most important advantages

  1. Regular planks help you build up not only your abdominal muscles, but also your entire body.
  2. Improves your posture and prevents spinal problems.
  3. Helps you lose weight, because you activate and strengthen several muscle groups at the same time, so your basal metabolic rate increases in the long run. This means that you burn more calories even while you’re resting.
  4. Trains your balance, which helps your performance in other sports.
  5. Stretches the entire back side of your body, making you more flexible.

Which Muscles Does Planking Train?

The plank is a compound exercise. In contrast to isolation exercises, which specifically target individual muscles, planking involves several muscle groups working together.

a muscle map of the muscles targeted when doing a plank

The following are the primary muscles trained with planks (shaded with dark blue):

  • Rectus abdominis / straight abdominal muscle: The straight abdominal muscle is an important postural muscle and the visible six-pack. It pulls the chest towards the legs.
  • Transversus abdominis / transverse abdominal muscle: The transversus abdominis is also active when the torso bends, contracting the abdomen and lowering the ribs. It’s involved in exhalation as well.
  • Musculus obliquus internus abdominis, Musculus obliquus externus abdominis / oblique abdominal muscles, internal and external: The oblique abdominal muscles rotate the upper body, and contribute to a narrow waist and defined abdominal muscles.
  • Musculus quadratus lumborum and Musculus iliopsoas / rear abdominal muscles: The musculus quadratus lumborum inclines the trunk to the side, stabilizes the lower ribs during inhalation, and serves as an auxiliary muscle for exhalation. The iliopsoas muscle is the strongest hip flexor and involved in straightening the torso from a supine position. It can also rotate the thigh outwards.
  • Erector spinae / back extensor: The main function of the lower back muscles is to straighten the spine and keep the head upright.

In addition to the abdominal muscles and back extensor, planking also trains the upper back, shoulder, chest, arms, glutes, and thigh muscles. The following are the specific secondary muscles trained (shaded with light blue):

  • Trapezius (upper back)
  • Deltoid (shoulders)
  • Pectoralis major (chest)
  • Gluteus Maximus (buttocks)
  • Quadriceps (front of the thighs)
  • Biceps femoris (one of the hamstrings)

Plank Execution

Let’s break down the perfect forearm plank, step-by-step:

  1. Lie on your belly on the floor and position your elbows under your shoulders.
  2. Rest your forearms parallel to your body so that your fingertips point forward. Face your palms up towards the ceiling. Possible modifications: turn your palms face down or interlace your fingers in front of you.
  3. Keep your neck as relaxed as possible and your head straight, focus on a point between your hands. Be careful not to pull your head back into your neck.
  4. Press your forearms into the ground and push yourself up. Support your body only with your toes and forearms.
  5. Build up tension in your whole body by pulling your navel toward your spine, pressing through your knees, and engaging your glutes.
  6. To keep from sagging in your upper back, push your shoulder blades down backwards, press your forearms into the mat and push your shoulders away from the floor.
  7. Your body should form a straight line – avoid either hollowing or rounding your back.

 

 

Our tip: Even if your focus is on your abdominal muscles during this exercise, it helps to concentrate on your glutes and legs as well. Deliberately tense your glutes, push through your legs, and extend your heels away from you.


Typical Plank Mistakes

There are a few common errors in planking that you can easily avoid with some simple tricks. It’s best to have someone look at your form the first time you do it or watch yourself in the mirror to identify possible mistakes.

#1 Hollowing your back

If your hips aren’t in line with your upper body, but sinking towards the ground instead, you’re still lacking some strength in your core – which just takes practice! A hollow back can be avoided by imagining that you’re pulling your navel up under your ribs. It can also help to push your lumbar spine upwards slightly. But be careful not to bring your hips too far up!

Our tip: Before you start with this exercise, focus on your core with crunches or sit-ups. Or you can do them on your knees until your form improves.

#2 Holding your hips too high

Similar to hollowing your back, you lack abdominal tension if you tend to stretch your bottom too far into the air. You can compensate for the lack of strength in the middle of your body by consciously tensing your glutes and pushing through your legs. Imagine stretching yourself out instead of up by pushing your heels away from you.

A man and a woman of color, both smiling, do planks on mats in a gym setting
©Dean Mitchell

#3 Rounding your back

If your upper body sinks down during planking, this is a sign that your shoulders aren’t activated, i.e. too relaxed, which can lead to pain in your lower back. Remember to keep tension throughout your body and consciously engage your stomach and buttocks. Press your forearms into the mat and push yourself away from the floor.

#4 Rolling your head back into your neck

Your gaze should be towards the ground and your head in a neutral position, i.e. consider it as an extension of your spine. 

Our tip: Avoid overstretching your neck by focusing on a set point between your hands.

#5 Bending your knees

If you don’t stretch out your legs completely during the exercise, you’ll lack the necessary body tension to maintain your form. Deliberately pull your kneecaps up towards your thighs while pushing your heels away from you. Plus: Don’t forget to engage your glutes!


How Long Should You Hold a Plank?

The current world record holder is an ex-soldier from the US named George Hood. He held a plank for 8 hours, 15 minutes, and 15 seconds.

If your abs are quaking at the very thought of this amount of time, don’t worry! Because the good thing about planks is: they’re highly effective and produce great results in a short time. In order to benefit from its effects over the long term, we recommend ten minutes of planking a day – with breaks!

Quality always comes before quantity! Stay in the position only as long as you can maintain it without compromising your alignment. This might only be 30 seconds at the beginning. It’s better to do four 15-second sets, with 5-second breaks in-between, than a full minute in the wrong position.

A white man and two white women plank with a gym setting behind them
©Hirurg

Most importantly: Don’t give up and be consistent! Hold the plank a few seconds longer every day and you’ll see progress quickly. To start you can try our 30-day Plank Challenge!


Can You Lose Weight With Planks?

Did you know that every kilo of muscle mass increases your daily basal metabolic rate by up to 100 calories? This means that you burn more energy during the same activity, even at rest, and can therefore lose weight more easily. Since the plank strengthens your whole body, it can also contribute to weight loss.

Feel like getting started? With our free foodspring workouts you can train at home in a focused and effective way, since they’re tailored to your goals and your fitness level. It’s your choice: Pick from many different workouts!

Check out our Workouts


How many calories does a plank burn?

How many calories you burn with planking depends on many factors such as age, weight, and genetics. If you’re 1.70 meters tall and weigh 65 kilograms, you can average around 7 calories per minute, so if you do it for 10 minutes a day, you’ll burn around 70 calories.

However, if you want to lose weight, or just stay fit, you shouldn’t rely on a single exercise, no matter how effective it is. Instead, aim for a healthy mix of strength and cardio training.

Important note: 70 percent of your success comes from your diet. In addition to working out, make sure you eat a balanced diet rich in protein and carbs, including things like our Whey Protein – it’s as delicious as a milkshake, and great for your muscles.


Plank Variations

Knee Plank

The knee plank is the perfect beginner’s version for anyone who doesn’t have enough core strength yet. Assume the same starting position as the classic version, but leave your knees on the ground. In this modification the following still applies: elbows are under your shoulders, your stomach is firm, and your glutes are at maximum tension.

High Plank

Begin on the floor: Put your hands close to your upper body, below your shoulders with your fingertips pointing forward. Push yourself off the floor until you reach a high push-up position with your elbows straight. Your neck stays in line with your torso and hips to form a straight line. Rest your gaze down between your hands. Important note: Tense your glutes, pull your navel toward your spine, push through your knees, and extend your heels away from you.

Military Plank

This variation requires extra balance and core strength. Begin on your forearms, then move up one level by first putting one hand, then the other where your elbows were before – until you’ve reached the high plank on the palms of your hands.Then lower yourself side by side down to your forearms. Important note: Always keep your hips parallel to the floor and move slowly, keeping your muscles engaged.

Single Arm Plank

Begin this variation in a high plank: Place your hands below your shoulders, align your upper and lower body so that your body forms a line and hold this for a few seconds. Now raise one arm without losing your balance. The higher you lift and extend your arm, the more body tension you’ll need to maintain balance.

Superman Plank

Start in the high plank position. Now lift one arm and the opposite leg from the floor. Engage your core to keep from falling to one side. Hold this position for a few seconds or alternate your left and right arm.

Bent Knees Side Plank

Start on your side on the mat with your elbow below your shoulder and your forearm parallel to the end of the mat. The palm of your hand faces the mat and your hips and knees are in one line on the mat. Bend your legs so your knees are at a 90 degree angle. Now push your hips towards the ceiling and push out from your shoulder – avoid sagging in your upper back. Keep your core engaged, especially now that your lateral abdominal muscles are active as well. Stay in this position and then change sides.

Side Plank

Start on your side on the ground with your elbow below your shoulder and your forearm parallel to the end of the mat. Stretch out your legs, with both feet on top of each other and forming a line with your hips and upper body. Press the outer edge of your lower foot into the floor, as well as your forearm, and push your hips up towards the ceiling. Don’t sag! Consciously engage your lateral abs and hold this side plank before changing sides.

Plank with Rotation

Start in the side plank position – either on your knees or with your legs stretched. Your elbow is below your shoulder. Support yourself on your forearm and deliberately push your hips up. Stretch your upper arm towards the ceiling and then thread it between your upper body and the floor. Repeat this movement, keeping your hips in the air the whole time.

A male foodspring model performs a side plank with his right arm stretched into the air
©foodspring
A white foodspring male model performs a side plank with rotation, balancing on his left forearm and the side of his left foot while wrapping his right arm underneath his ribs
©foodspring

30-Day Plank Challenge

Are you an “all or nothing” type and want to set new records for yourself? Go for it! With our 30-day foodspring plank challenge you’ll be able to hold your plank for a full five minutes at a time in just one month.

Download the challenge as a pdf

Our tip: If it’s already easy for you to hold it for one minute or longer, just add that time to the times in our table. How long will you be able to hold it after 30 days?

Day Duration
Day 1 20 sec.
Day 2 20 sec.
Day 3 30 sec.
Day 4 30 sec.
Day 5 40 sec.
Day 6 break
Day 7 45 sec.
Day 8 45 sec.
Day 9 1 min.
Day 10 1 min.
Day 11 1 min.
Day 12 1 min.30 sec.
Day 13 break
Day 14 1 min. 40 sec.
Day 15 1 min. 50 sec.
Day 16 2 min.
Day 17 2 min.
Day 18 2 min. 30 sec.
Day 19 break
Day 20 2 min. 40 sec.
Day 21 2 min. 50 sec.
Day 22 3 min.
Day 23 3 min.
Day 24 3 min. 30 sec.
Day 25 3 min. 40 sec.
Day 26 break
Day 27 4 min.
Day 28 4 min.
Day 29 4 min. 30 sec.
Day 30 5 min.

 


Conclusion

  • The plank is one of the most effective bodyweight exercises for the whole body.
  • Planks train not only your abdominal and back muscles, but also arms, shoulders, glutes, and thighs.
  • When performed correctly, it strengthens your posture, prevents back problems, and improves your flexibility.
  • Head, shoulders, back, glutes, and legs form a straight line.
  • Muscle tension in your whole body is a must to execute the plank correctly: Pull your navel towards your spine, tense your glutes, push through your legs, and extend your heels away from you.
  • Introduce variety into your workout with the many different plank variations – both static and dynamic, for beginners and advanced athletes.
Article sources
We at foodspring use only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

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