If you are interested in core workouts you have likely heard of the plank exercise. Find out how to do it and whether it is any good.
The plank is an exercise where you rest on your forearms and feet with your body in a straight line. You simply hold this position for an extended period of time.
Doing this will mainly work your abs and hip flexor muscles.
One important thing to note is that isometric (static) exercises like the plank tend to be less effective than more dynamic ab exercises for growing and strengthening muscles. Even if you do weighted planks.
The main situation where you would still consider doing planks is if you find the spine bending in more dynamic ab exercises too uncomfortable.
As your ab muscles get stronger over time from doing planks, you can consider these more dynamic exercises to see more results faster.
How to do a plank
Having something soft below your elbows is not essential but can make this exercise more comfortable.
That aside, take the following steps to do the plank exercise:
- Sit on your forearms and knees.
- Step back with your feet until you can keep your body straight from your ankles to the top of your head. Keep your shoulders above your elbows.
- Hold this position for a certain amount of time.
The most challenging part of doing a plank will be keeping your hips at the right height. You want to stay in one line for the duration of the exercise.
If this is currently too hard to do for reasonable amounts of time, it can be smarter to start with plank progressions.
There are also many plank variations with slightly different focuses.
Best time to do the plank exercise
There are a variety of health habits that are more or less effective depending on when you implement them thanks to the circadian clocks inside of your body.
When it comes to morning vs evening workouts, the research is not perfect yet. This could be because the differences are not too big too.
The main thing to keep in mind is that exercising too close to bedtime can reduce your sleep quality and duration.
Planks are not the most intense movements but if you have the option, you likely want to avoid them the two hours before you go to sleep.
That aside, the best time to do the plank exercise is when you are able to do it consistently without interruptions. Being consistent with your exercise routine is important for getting a lot of results.
Muscles worked with the plank exercise
Some of the primary muscles worked with planks include:
- Hip flexors
Some of the secondary muscles worked with planks include:
You can classify planks as a compound ab exercise but your abs and hip flexors will still be the muscles where you can expect most of your results.
One important thing to note is that planks are an isometric exercise. They work your muscles in a static way.
This is relevant because isometric exercises tend to be less effective than dynamic exercises for growing and strengthening muscles.
In turn, one of the benefits of isometric exercises is that you could find them more comfortable than more dynamic alternatives.
That being said, it is still possible to get results from doing planks if you use enough resistance and do them for long enough.
How many planks you should do for how long depends on what muscle-related benefits you are looking for.
For example, you should do planks for 3 to 30 seconds per set and more than 80 to 150 seconds per workout at 70-75% of maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) to grow the muscles involved.
The downside is that you need specific devices to measure MVC. Your best bet is likely doing planks with weights where these durations feel challenging to complete.
As a complete resistance training beginner, a 1-minute plank a day could be a good performance.
However, over time, you definitely want to work up to longer durations, potentially while wearing a good weighted vest, to see more results from doing planks.
Plank exercise benefits
While it is not the number one exercise in terms of effectiveness, doing planks still offer benefits. A few examples include:
- Stronger muscles: Doing planks the right way can help you grow and strengthen your abs and hip flexors.
- May reduce or prevent back pain: Making core muscles like your abs stronger can help you reduce and prevent back pain (1, 2).
- Could be more comfortable: More dynamic ab exercises tend to be more effective but you could find these uncomfortable. In that case, isometric planks could be a more comfortable alternative.
- Changing up planks is easy: There are many different types of planks with a variety of arm and leg movements. This can be a benefit if you like switching things up.
- You can do them almost everywhere: While you may not always have enough resistance for growth available, you can still do planks almost everywhere. This can save you from car rides to the gym.
- Could make your six-pack stand out more: Planks will not always give visible abs but if you can already see these, planks could help make them stand out more. This is typically considered to be visually appealing.
In some situations, these benefits of planks are enough to make it worth adding this exercise to your routine.
You may wonder what some of these more dynamic ab exercises are and/or whether there are other movements that work these muscles in a relatively static way.
Some plank alternatives are:
- Ab wheel roll-outs
- Bicycle crunches
- Knee raises on the captain’s chair
- Flutter kicks
Which of these plank alternatives is good for you depends on details like how comfortable you find dynamic ab exercises and what other muscles you want to work
Is the plank a good exercise?
The plank can be a good exercise for people who want to work their abs and hip flexors in an isometric (static) way.
Keep in mind that you likely need to do planks with extra resistance if you want to grow and strengthen these muscles.
Additionally, you want to keep in mind that more dynamic ab exercises tend to be more effective than static exercises like planks.
If you don’t find these dynamic alternatives uncomfortable, they are likely better choices for you.
One thing that is worth mentioning is that personal preferences are still relevant too. People who like doing planks will likely find it easier to do them consistently.
The plank exercise is mainly good for growing, strengthening, and improving endurance in your ab and hip flexor muscles when more dynamic exercises are uncomfortable.
The main ways to know if you are doing the plank correctly are by filming yourself or doing the exercise next to a mirror. These things will help you understand whether your hips are too low, too high, or at the right height.