What is the Plank

The plank is an isometric core exercise that involves you maintaining your body in a straight line. This static exercise recruits many muscle groups at the same time, and it is effective for strengthening your core, whilst simultaneously working your shoulders, arms, and glutes. This exercise is used in this name because, when done correctly, your body straightens and remains rigid, much like a plank of wood.

According to research, a strong core is important for resisting spinal perturbations and transferring power across the extremities during physical activity.  Moreover, a stronger core can considerably decrease the occurrence of lower-back injuries, along with developing athletic performance and trunk stability.

Plank Muscles Worked

Though you are balancing your body on your forearms, and toes, the majority of the work in a plank is done by your core. The primary muscles worked are the abdominals, obliques. The secondary muscles worked are the anterior deltoids, serratus anterior, trapezius, rhomboids, and glutes. 

What Level is the Plank

The Plank is a beginner’s level exercise and is a great accessory to your training routine as they don’t require any equipment and are quick to carry out. Getting into the plank position is relatively easy, and there are many challenging variations for those who find this exercise easy!

How to do a Plank

Elbow Plank

  1. Begin in a plank position with your forearms and toes on the floor. Your shoulders are stacked directly on top of your elbows, and your wrists are lined up with your elbows. Press your palms down into the ground. Look down in between your hands with your head being relaxed.
  2. Engage your glutes and core to ensure your body is in a straight line. Your butt should not be high up or sag down. This is the neutral spine position. Maintain a steady breathing tempo.
  3. Hold this position between 10-120 seconds for 5 sets.

High Plank 

  1. Begin in a push-up/plank position with your arms shoulder-width apart, and shoulders stacked directly on top of your wrists. Your toes touch the floor. 
  2. Engaged your glutes and your core so that your body is rigid, and is in a straight line from your head to your heels. Your back should remain straight and not be arched, and your hips should not sag. Main a steady breathing tempo.
  3. Hold this position between 10-120 seconds for 5 sets.

Plank Workout

  • Beginners should perform between 10-20 seconds, for 5 sets, 3 times a week.
  • Intermediate level athletes should perform between 21-60 seconds, for 5 sets, 3 times a week.
  • Advanced level athletes should perform 60+ seconds, for 5 sets, 3 times a week

You should move on to harder variations once you have achieved your reps and set goals.

It is highly recommended that you superset this with up to 5 exercises to create a core circuit. This will allow you to target your abs from every direction and further develop your core strength. Your functional strength will not only improve but also your core definition will develop and sculpt up into a set of solid 6 pack abs. An example core circuit would be:

  1. Plank - 30 seconds
  2. Flutter Kicks - 30 seconds
  3. Lying Leg Raises - 10 reps
  4. Russian Twists - 40 reps
  5. Mountain Climber - 30 seconds

In a single set, there will be 5 exercises that you will complete. Rest 60-90 seconds in between sets, and perform this circuit for 5 sets, 3 times a week. Moreover, you can choose different core exercises to be practiced into your circuits to keep your workout fun and interesting!

What are the Benefits of The Plank

Improve Your Posture

A bad posture is when we have slumped and rounded shoulders. This occurs because of poor alignment and sitting for a long period of time! Planks will work your core and your whole body, it strengthens your spine, rhomboids, trapezius, and your abdominal muscles, which keeps your posture strong. A good posture will prevent your body from developing injuries and will improve your confidence and serenity. 

Develop Balance and Stability

Your body utilizes its core muscles to assist in sustaining balance. The majority of the stabilization comes from your core. Having a strong core could help you avoid injuries to muscle groups that are over-exerted during swift movements. For example, our core muscles are responsible for helping us balance whilst dribbling the ball past opponents in basketball. A strong core will reduce the risk of us falling in sudden movements.

Improve Core Definition

Planks are great for targeting your midsection as they engage all the core muscle groups, such as the transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, and obliques. If it is superset with other core exercises, supplemented with a controlled diet, and regular cardio exercise, you will see your abs chiseled and sculpted. 

Plank Variations

Plank Exercises for Beginners 

Knee Plank

The knee plank is the most basic form of all plank variation. Instead of being on your toes, you will form a plank on your knees which takes the load off your core, which makes this exercise much easier to perform. You can perform this either in an elbow plank, or a high plank. To do this, you will:

  1. Get into an elbow plank position with your elbows directly under your shoulders, hands on the floor, and core squeezed. Drop your knees on the floor, and your feet are now in the air. 
  2. Engage your core and glutes to ensure that your body is in a straight line. Your back should be flat and not arched. Maintain a steady breathing tempo.
  3. Hold this position between 10-90 seconds for 5 sets. It is highly recommended that you progress onto the low plank once you find this variation easy.

Side Plank

The side plank primarily works on your core, especially the obliques. You will rest your body weight on one side with your feet stacked on top of each other, whilst maintaining a rigid body. There are three variations within the side plank. To perform this, you will:

  1. Lie on your right side with your right elbow under your right shoulder, and your forearm pointing ahead in front of you. Your hand is balled into a fist. Your legs are straight and your feet are stacked on top of each other. Rest your left hand on your waist. 
  2. Engaged your core, glutes, and quads to ensure that your body is rigid and in a straight line from head to feet. Your neck is in a neutral position, Maintain a steading breathing tempo. 
  3. Hold this position between 10-120 seconds for 5 sets. Work on both sides in a single set. 
  4. You can progress to elevated side plank once this variation becomes easy.

Reverse Plank 

Reverse planks target your abdominal muscles, such as the rectus abdominis, also known as the “6 pack muscle”. It also works the glutes.  This is a beginners level exercise that would be a great addition to your core routine. It is highly recommended that you include this in your circuit. To perform this, you will:

  1. Begin by sitting on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Place your palms on the floor with fingers facing towards your feet slightly behind the outside of your hips, shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Press your palms into the floor and lift your hips and torso upward. Your arms should be straight. Engage your core and glutes to ensure that your body is in a straight line. Look up towards the ceiling.
  3. Hold this position between 10-120 seconds for 5 sets.

Advanced Plank Exercises

Weighted Plank 

This is an advanced-level plank exercise that is performed once you are comfortable with bodyweight planks, or generally when you reach a plateau and are in demand for greater difficulty. This will increase the load on your core, forcing you to contract it to prevent your body from toppling over. To perform this you will:

  1. Begin on all fours, followed by loading a weight plate onto your upper back safely. Alternatively, you can also wear a backpack loaded with heavy objects.  Start with a lighter weight to get used to the load. 
  2. Get into an elbow plank position with your shoulders stacked directly on top of your elbows, your feet are extended.
  3. Engaged your core and glutes to ensure your body is rigid and in a straight line. Make sure that your back is flat and your hips do not sag. 
  4. Hold this position between 10-90 seconds for 5 sets. Gradually increase the weight to increase the difficulty.

 

Extended Plank

The extended plank is one of the most challenging plank variations out there. It requires you to extend your arms out in front of your shoulders, and the further the distance, the more difficult it will be. This exercise is a progression towards the Superman push-up. To perform this, you will:

  1. Start in a high plank position where your shoulders are stacked directly on top of your wrists, and your arms are shoulder-width apart. Engage your core.
  2. Walk your hands 2-4 steps forward to be in an extended plank position, whilst your body remains straight and rigid. The rule is that the further your arms are away from your torso, the more demands will be placed on your core and shoulders.
  3. Hold this position between 10-90 seconds for 5 sets. Over time, you should gradually walk your hands further forward to increase the intensity.

About the Author

My name is Pat Chadwick, I am a calisthenics coach with over 4 years of experience in helping people from all backgrounds to achieve their calisthenics goals. My goal is to become the number one calisthenics coach in the world as it is my passion to help people change their lives through inspiring bodyweight movements. I believe everyone deserves the right to feel good about their health, body, and be delighted inside and out.