At first glance, the plank might not look like much. What could be that great about holding up your body without even moving?
As it turns out, planks are a great way to strengthen your core and work out many different muscle groups, all at once. You can also do it anywhere — all you need is your body weight.
Plank exercises challenge your entire body, giving you the most burn for your buck. This bodyweight exercise is especially excellent for working the core, which is crucial for mobility and pain relief.
Here’s what you should know about the health benefits of planks and how to do them effectively.
What is a Plank?
The plank is one of the simplest exercises that you can do – it’s simple in its appearance and the amount of steps involved in doing one. Being simple, though, does not mean that doing a plank is easy.
The plank is achievable in a number of different methods, but the main goal of the plank exercise will have you with your body perpendicular to the ground, stomach facing down, elevating your torso off the ground with either your elbows or hands.
The simple act of planking isn’t very hard to pull off, but holding the position is a completely different story.
Get into the top or start of a pushup position. Keep your palms and toes firmly planted on the ground, your back straight, and your core tight. A saggy back or bottom during a plank can result in lower back pain later on, so be sure not to compromise your form. Do not let your head sag.
Lower down to your forearms, maintaining the same positioning and form as the high plank.
What Makes the Plank so Special?
There’s a fair few reasons why the plank is so popular. Some people even consider it their favourite exercise.
1. The plank is a bodyweight exercise. Bodyweight exercises are workouts that you can do with nothing but your own body, which is appealing for a number of reasons.
2. You can do bodyweight exercises pretty much anywhere; the most equipment you’ll ever need is your body and the flat surface. You don’t need to buy expensive equipment to do bodyweight exercises.
3. Bodyweight exercises are great for your core, and since they rely on your own bodyweight, they’ll be consistently tailored to your own workout needs — as you gain weight, you’ll be working out with more weight, which is similar to increasing the amount you’d bench press, for example.
4. The plank works out a tremendous number of muscles in your body, which makes them appealing for all sorts of training — strength, endurance, you name it. Planks can even be a benefit for those wanting to do cardio training.
5. Planks can be performed by people of pretty much energy age, as long as they’re still physically fit. Kids can start out doing planks and if they continue to do so, they will be able to continue the exercise into old age.
The Worthwhile Benefits of Plank Exercise
Let’s look a little more in-depth at some of the wild health benefits you will see if you start doing planks on the regular.
1. Planks strengthen the entire body.
Love multitasking moves? Target multiple muscles at once by doing planks. For starters, the plank works your glutes and quads.
These muscles play a vital role in propelling you forward, which is extra helpful if you’re a runner. Strong glutes and quads also stabilize the pelvis and knees, respectively, helping you move comfortably during exercise and daily activities.
The plank also targets your shoulders, arms, and core, aka the main stabilizer of your body. When you’re in a plank, your spine is in a neutral position. This forces the core muscles to engage and provide stability, ultimately making them stronger.
2. Planks improve your posture.
As the plank strengthens your core, it also promotes good posture. This is especially important if you tend to slouch or, like many people, sit at a desk all day.
Here’s how it works: Your core muscles are in charge of supporting your spine and keeping your body upright. This includes muscles like the diaphragm, pelvic floor, internal obliques, and abs.
Doing planks keeps these muscles healthy and strong, ensuring they can brace your spine with ease. What’s more, a strong core keeps your spine properly aligned, further helping your posture.
3. Planks help get rid of back pain.
When it comes to pain, the plank (literally) has your back — and it’s all thanks to the core-strengthening, posture-improving effects of the move.
As the center of your body, the core handles the load of your movements. If your core is weak, that load is shifted onto the surrounding muscles, which start to overcompensate disproportionately. This can trigger back pain, especially in the lower back. Poor posture also places pressure on the muscles in your back.
Enter the benefits of plank exercises. Researchers found that stabilizing your core with exercises (like planks) can reduce low back pain.
Planks can also provide relief by increasing your awareness of spinal alignment and posture. Doing planks can help you become more mindful of how you hold your body. This type of awareness, called postural awareness, is linked to back pain relief.
4. Planks aid in preventing injury.
By stabilizing your core, planks reduce your risk of injury. A strong core helps transfer force to your extremities during movement. A weak core, on the other hand, is unable to handle the load. This places too much pressure on nearby muscles, causing “injuries in unexpected places such as the hips, hamstrings, or inner thighs.
The posture-related benefits of planks can lend a hand, too. Good posture keeps you safe by evenly distributing your weight during activity. This helps you avoid doing awkward, incorrect movements that can lead to injury and pain.
5. Planks enhance your balance.
When you do a plank, you’re forced to hold all your weight on your toes and arms without falling over. This improves your ability to balance, which is key for controlling your body’s position.
Having good balance helps you move in a way that prevents injury, whether you’re walking to the mailbox or hiking up a mountain. Plus, balance issues tend to become more common as we age, so it never hurts to challenge your balance with moves like planks.
6. Planks improve your flexibility.
Though the plank doesn’t feel like your typical stretch, it can totally boost your flexibility.
Doing a classic plank lengthens and stretches your hamstrings, the major muscles in the back upper leg that cause pain when they become too tight.
The exercise also stretches the arches and balls of your feet, which improves balance and range of motion. Meanwhile, the side plank stretches the obliques, making it easier to rotate your trunk with ease.
7. Planking will improve your metabolism.
When we sit and work for long hours or are not physically active in our life, our metabolism tends to slow down.
Doing the plank position regularly improves circulation, thus improving body metabolism. The stronger your muscles grow, the more your food intake will increase.
However, if you keep exercising regularly and eat a healthy diet, the combination will make your metabolic rate go up and you will burn more calories, which results in fat loss. Regular planking can improve your metabolism and you will burn calories, even in your sleep!
8. Plank improves overall mental health.
Any and all exercises release endorphins which help elevate our mood. However, planks can be special mood lifters because it engages the stress corners of our body.
Our shoulders, neck and back usually tense up and have knots because of strain and stress, both mental or physiological. Contracting these muscles literally squeezes the tension out from major muscles where the stress accumulates.
Constant stress can cause various mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Thus, exercise is essential to remind our brain and body to release stress and rejuvenate.
How to Do a Plank
The basic premise of a plank is to hold your body in a straight line with only your palms and toes touching the ground.
You should follow these 8 essential tips to have good form during a plank:
1. Your hands are placed comfortably on the ground, either with your palms on the ground or fists clasped together.
2. Your feet are hip-width apart. You should be balancing on the balls of your feet.
3. Your spine is totally straight.
4. Your tailbone should be tucked so that it’s aligned with your spine, not sticking into the air.
5. Your glutes — butt muscles — are squeezed tight.
6. Your belly button is drawn in toward your spine.
7. Your lats — back muscles — should be flexed and pulling away from the floor.
8. Your body is in one straight line. Make sure your lower back isn’t sagging and your booty isn’t popping up.
Try to hold the plank for 30 to 60 seconds at a time.
Different Plank Variations
While planks are always a whole-body exercise, certain types of planks can give specific muscle groups an added workout. Modified planks can also make the exercise harder, giving you an additional challenge once you’ve mastered regular planks.
Here are a few different plank positions to try, whether you’re a beginner or expert.
1. Side plank
Maintaining the same tenants of a traditional plank, rotate onto your side, extending one arm toward the ceiling and balancing on one foot.
Side planks are amazing for obliques and intercostals. These are the muscles between your ribs.
2. Reverse plank
This is the same idea as a standard plank, but you’re facing the ceiling rather than the floor. Lay on your back, and push your upper body up with your arms extended beneath you, until your body is forming a straight line. Hold this position.
Reverse planks are incredible for your entire core, glutes, hamstrings, and back.
3. Arm or leg lift planks
These planks put a lot more strain on your muscles, meaning that you’ll gain a lot more strength and endurance from practicing them. Arm and leg lift planks are a great addition to an exercise routine and can be switched out for, or supplement, regular planks.
Simply lift an arm or a leg when you’re in a standard, forward plank position. This helps to target your upper back, chest, and your core. Using your leg will work out your sides and glutes more; lifting an arm will improve benefits to your shoulder.
4. Side plank crunch
This is an exciting twist that blends two popular exercises — the plank and the crunch.
Get into side plank position, lying on the floor sideways with your right hand beneath your shoulder. Making sure the inside of your opposite foot is resting on the floor in front of your other one.
Tighten your abs and push into your right hand, forming a diagonal from head to toes. Crunch forward and down, trying to bring your left elbow to your right, then return to starting position and try to do this ten times.
Switch sides when you’re done and repeat.
5. Resistance plank
Adding a resistance band to your plank will increase the benefits to your core, shoulders, and even improve the flexibility bonus you’ll get in your hamstrings.
Put the band around your wrists and/or your ankles, then get into a standard high plank position (where you’re at the top of a standard pushup, holding the position.)
Move your left hand out a few inches and notice the added strain on your muscles, then return to original position. Repeat on opposite sites — each time you have worked each side of your body, you have finished a single rep. Shoot for ten when you’re just starting out.
No matter your fitness level, planks are a good exercise to incorporate into your fitness routine. You can challenge yourself to do planks daily — and even integrate them into the beginning of your stretching and cooldown routine so you don’t forget about them.
Now that you know how to plank, get ready for some killer abs! A stronger core will increase your athletic performance and everyday abilities.