If you are looking to strengthen your core without leaving the house, planking may seem like the way to go — it’s effective, it doesn’t require any equipment, and it’s super simple, right? Planking, which involves holding up your torso horizontally while keeping your elbows or palms and toes on the ground, may seem like a straightforward exercise, but it is commonly done incorrectly. Here are some tips on how to nail the perfect plank.
If you are exercising for the first time and just learning how to plank, you should start simple. Prop your torso off the ground and keep your back straight and horizontal to the floor. Your elbows should be planted on the ground below your shoulder blades and your toes should be in line with your elbows.
“Do not let your shoulder blades start to pinch together,” wrote personal trainer Rachel MacPherson. “Keep your elbows and feet or knees about shoulder-width apart.”
Once you’re in proper plank position, focus on keeping your muscles tight. Remember that planking, like squatting, benefits more than just the primary muscle group it is used for. In this case, your plank will benefit more than just your ab muscles.
“The key is to pull in the stomach as well as ‘brace’ the core as you do the plank,” said certified personal trainer Leon Turetsky. “At the same time, you want to squeeze your glutes.”
As you are holding your plank, remember to keep your knees slightly bent and resist the urge to look up at the mirror.
“Make sure that you’re not locking your knees in the process,” said certified personal trainer Caleb Backe. “Neutralize your neck and ensure that your head is in line with your spine.”
Caleb stressed that there are two common mistakes you are likely to make while planking: arching your back, which places strain on your spine and disengages your abs, and forgetting to breathe.
“Forgetting to breathe is a common mistake that many people make when exercising in general,” he wrote. “It’s natural that you hold your breath when you’re straining your body, but this can reduce your overall oxygen flow, which is crucial for muscle strength.”
Although you may be inclined to plank until you fall to the floor, make sure you’re not overdoing it at the gym. The key is to stay up for as long as you can maintain proper form.
“I recommend to start with 20 second holds and work up to 1 minute, but only increase the duration if you can stay in good form,” said Turetsky. “Repeat for two to three sets.”
If you are able to plank for a minute while maintaining proper form, give your typical workout routine a new twist. When you’re ready, try quickly transferring your weight from your elbows to your palms while remaining in plank position. Your arms should be almost straight with a slight bend in the elbow. Then, transfer your weight back to your elbows. Repeat, traveling back and forth between these two positions.
Although it is important to keep your elbows below your shoulders and your feet in line when nailing the classic plank, breaking this rule may give you an added challenge.
“Pull your elbows and toes toward each other while staying stationary,” wrote MacPherson. “Clench your glutes and quads, squeezing your toes towards your head and your shoulders towards your toes.” It will feel more difficult than usual to keep your hips from raising in the air to a pike position when your elbows and feet are brought close together. Resisting this urge will increase the plank’s intensity.
MacPherson shared that this type of plank is both very effective and highly intense. You may have heard that planking is an example of a low-impact workout, but the idea that low-impact means low-intensity is one of the many health myths you should stop believing. In fact, the classic plank is just one of the many low-impact workouts that still break a sweat.