Plank Progressions: Beginner To Advanced

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Planks are a well-known bodyweight exercise. With the right progressions, you can work up to your first minute or make the exercise harder.

To do a regular plank you lean on your feet and hands or elbows with your body in a straight line.

For some people, holding a regular plank for one minute or longer is currently too hard, even with the right technique. In that case, you can start with easier plank progressions to build up your strength and endurance.

On the other hand, individuals more experienced with resistance training may not see any muscle growth or strength progress with regular bodyweight planks. In that case, there are harder variations available.

Important general guidelines

Before learning all the plank progressions, it is important to keep a few important guidelines to remember. These are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to plank technique and resistance training in general.

First of all, you want to keep your body straight from your heels to your shoulders (including neck) during a plank. Don’t lower or raise your hips too far. This will help you avoid injuries and improve the effectiveness of your plank.

There are also more general guidelines when it comes to resistance training.

You want to give your muscles at least a day of rest in between plank progression sessions. This means you can train 3-4 times a week in total. Additionally, you want to rest around 2 minutes in between each plank hold.

Lastly, make sure you give your body enough nutrients and sleep to repair and grow your muscles when working on these plank progressions.

How long does it take to improve your plank?

Many people want to know how long it will take for them to see progress in how long they can hold the plank progression level they are currently at.

Unfortunately, there is no one right answer for everyone. Some of the factors that influence this include age, genes, how much/what you eat, how well you rest, how hard you push yourself, exactly how long you hold the planks, etc.

One individual could be stuck on a progression level for months, a different person could pass this same level in 2 weeks.

Beginner plank progressions

First of all, some people are interested in plank progressions because they are barely able to hold a plank, let alone holding one for a minute. Luckily, this goal is very achievable if you follow the right steps and training.

There are two main methods to do this, the first one is generally more effective than the second one.

Progression method 1

The plank is an exercise that mainly engages core muscles, hip flexors, and quadriceps. More specifically, abs and obliques are typically the muscles that fail first during a plank.

These muscles have to work to keep your hips at the right angle, to stop your hips from lowering, and to keep your legs stretched. If you can’t hold a plank (for a certain duration), it means these muscles need to become stronger.

The way you strengthen muscles is by challenging them enough. You can do this in a static, isometric, way like planks or in a more active, isotonic, way with a variety of other exercises.

In general, more active exercises are more effective for growing and strengthening muscles. This includes your abs and obliques.

For that reason, the first and recommended method for getting to a full plank or increasing the duration you can hold one is doing more active core exercises.

Some examples include crunches, sit-ups, double crunches, reverse crunches, etc. to train your abs and exercises like side bends, side crunches, bicycle crunches, etc. to train your obliques.

You can do as many repetitions of these exercises as possible for 3-6 sets (with 2 minutes of rest in between).

If you can do 12 repetitions or more in a row of these exercises with good technique, you can likely hold a plank for a decent duration. To improve your plank duration even more after that, you can do weighted ab exercises.

These are the same exercises but you hold extra weight to make the exercise more challenging and in turn, grow and strengthen your muscles more.

How to do a double crunch

Progression method 2

The next exercise to progress to a full plank is less effective but more of a regression that is closely related to the regular version.

Knee planks, also known as modified planks, are basically the same exercise but instead of leaning on your feet, you lean on your knees. By doing this, your core muscles have to work less hard to keep your body in a straight line.

A soft surface can make these knee planks more comfortable on your knees.

Per training session, you want to do knee planks as long as possible for 3-6 times (with 2 minutes of rest in between).

Once you are able to do knee planks of about 2-3 minutes you should be able to do regular planks long enough to make it worth transitioning.

How to do a knee plank

The regular plank

If you can do the exercises above for the mentioned number of repetitions or durations you can likely do a plank for at least 30 seconds.

You can lean on either your hands with slightly less than stretched arms or your forearms with bent arms. The forearm version will be a tiny amount more challenging.

The main attention points for both planks are keeping your body straight from your heels to the top of your head and keeping your shoulders more or less above your hands or elbows depending on what variation you are doing.

Advanced plank progressions

Bodyweight planks can help resistance training beginners and possibly intermediates get some extra muscle growth and strengthening.

However, most people will have to make the bodyweight version more challenging to keep seeing progress (if they are eating, resting, and sleeping well) at some point.

When this is the case, there are a few advanced plank progressions to choose from. The three main advanced progressions in this article are weighted planks, bodyweight core strength progressions, and balance progressions.

Which one of these three is the best for you depends on your personal preferences, personal situation, training goals, equipment available, etc.

Most people can consider these advanced progressions once they are able to hold a regular plank for about 1-2 minutes.

Weighted planks

The main reason why regular planks become too easy is that your muscles get strong enough for the weight (your bodyweight) they have to keep elevated.

To make them even stronger you have to challenge your muscles more (again if you are eating, resting, sleeping well). One of the most straightforward ways to do this is by putting external weights on your lower back.

Doing weighted planks with a weighted vest is convenient since the weight can’t fall off your back. You could also put something like a weight plate on your lower back but this can fall off and be less comfortable.

Similar to the beginner plank progression, more dynamic weighted core exercises are typically more effective for growing and strengthening abs and obliques.

Bodyweight core strength plank progressions

Some people don’t want to invest in extra weights or simply prefer to keep things bodyweight. For these individuals, there are also a few progressions to choose from.

Something to keep in mind is that these progressions are still static. If you are serious about core training progress you likely want to go for other exercise options.

The first one is one-legged planks. As the name implies you simply raise one leg off the ground while doing the regular plank.

This makes it so your oblique muscles have to work harder to keep your hips horizontal. You can make the one-legged plank even more challenging by moving the leg in the air outward.

The next plank variation involves putting your feet on a slightly elevated surface so that your body is in a straight horizontal line. This makes the regular plank a tiny amount more challenging for your ab muscles.

These previous two options were still relatively easy. For a plank variation that is a lot more challenging, you can move your elbows forward as much as possible while still keeping your body in a straight line.

If you are really strong you can even do this with a high plank where you lean on your hands.

Balance plank progressions

Planks are typically done as a core strengthening exercise but by using some balance equipment or moving certain body parts you can also make this into a challenging balance and coordination exercise.

First of all, you can do planks with either your hands or feet on equipment like an exercise ball, Bosu Ball, or balance board.

Next, there is an exercise called plank shoulder taps where you tap the shoulder of the opposite side with one hand while in a plank position.

You can take this one step further and do superman planks. In this exercise, you start in a high plank position (on your hands) but raise one leg and the arm on the opposite side.

How to do a superman plank

Do this for more core muscle growth

As mentioned before, planks can be a fun way to test core muscle strength and endurance but there are better options when it comes to improving these areas of your physical health.

To do this you want to do core exercises that are more dynamic and use extra weights for the right numbers of repetitions and sets.

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Matt Claes founded Weight Loss Made Practical to help people get in shape and stay there after losing 37 pounds and learning the best of the best about weight loss, health, and longevity for over 4 years. Over these years he has become an expert in nutrition, exercise, and other physical health aspects.