The Right Way to do the Plank Exercise

The plank exercise seems like a brain-dead simple pose that anyone can practice without much instruction. This is true, but to refine the plank exercise, one must implement some specific components to ensure optimal performance.

Note: This post is sponsored by SpecForce Abs.

It’s one thing to balance horizontally on all four limbs and see how long you can last without collapsing. It’s quite another to use the plank exercise as a stabilization drill (as it was intended). It’s not about balance, so much as it is about crafting a solid, bodily structure in which you can distribute force production in relation to the ground.

The plank exercise
Do you get it yet?

With the plank, there’s a lot more than meets the eye, and simply looking at an example of the plank may not offer the detail necessary to optimize technique. The real problem is that the plank is seldom taught properly at all. Personal trainers seem to expect their clients to just “get it” by modeling what they’ve demonstrated, instead of teaching the specifics. It’s true that almost anyone can imitate the plank position, but in my experience, most people miss a few vital components when performing it.

Done properly, the plank exercise can be extremely taxing, and for veteran plankers, may result in an initial drop in performance upon first starting the new technique. Rest assured, that with practice of the most efficient technique, performance increases will be regular and ongoing. On the flip side, if you’re practicing a less efficient technique, you guarantee a limit on your performance (this is true of any exercise). Good technique is both efficient and effective and results in the greatest overall benefits, and that’s what we’re trying to do in optimizing our performance in the plank exercise – to squeeze as much benefit out of it as possible. We do this by turning the plank into a full body exercise, instead of just a core-strengthening exercise.

By the end of this tutorial, you’ll have a thorough understanding of how to maximize your performance in the plank exercise.

The Right Way to do the Plank Exercise

The Plank Exercise – Technique Cues and Tips

1) Arm Positioning – Elbows must be placed directly beneath your shoulders – joints in one line (like a skyscraper). Weight should be distributed directly beneath your upper arms, under the elbows. The forearms should be pointed in whatever direction is most comfortable, with no additional weight on the forearms, wrists or hands (from no forward lean). The hands may be flexed into a fist or relaxed.

2) Shoulder Pack – Shoulders must be packed down on the ribcage to connect the structure of the arms to the structure of the core muscles. Actively contract the lat muscles to pack the shoulders down in relation to your torso.

3) Spinal alignment – The spine should be lengthened in equal opposite directions. Lift your head away from your shoulders, lengthening your neck while simultaneously reaching your tailbone in the other direction. Do not round the spine or extend the neck. Maintain this long spine throughout the entire duration of the set.

4) Core and glute activation – Activate the core musculature with a gentle contraction while also contracting the glute muscles, which results in a slight tailbone tuck (similar to a dog tucking its tail between its legs). Your exhale should be timed with this contraction (see below).

5) Leg drive – Instead of just balancing on your ball of feet, drive them backwards into the ground by contracting your quad muscles, which will extend your knees to lockout. Push your feet backwards into the ground, which will drive your heels backward in combination with the knee extension. This should be counter-balanced with a forward arm drive, creating an “arch effect,” as demonstrated in the video.

Two things that I forgot to mention in the video are:

6) Foot and Leg Positioning – The best position for your feet is hip-width apart. For those who have tighter hips with limited range of motion, it’s ok to place your feet a little wider (e.g. shoulder-width stance ). Similar to your forearm positioning, experiment with what feels best for you. You don’t want any excess strain on your hip joints or the surrounding musculature to distract you or limit your performance.

7) Breathing Technique – In combination with the core and glute activation (and the resulting hip tuck), passively exhale the air out of your lungs until most or all of it is expelled. Allow an inhale to be sucked back in as you relax your lungs and throat (actively inhaling is unnecessary and may result in lightheadedness from temporarily over-oxygenating your blood). Once you have a lungful of air, repeat the slow exhale process again throughout the duration of your timed set.


Using optimal technique in your exercise program is not just the best way to train, it’s the only way to train if you want to succeed for the long-term. When you integrate all of the above components into the plank exercise, you ensure that ongoing improvements can be made over the long term because you’re practicing optimal technique. If you’re using a less efficient technique or if you’re neglecting one or two of the components, then you put a limit on your performance right from the start. Train smart and watch your performance skyrocket!

Important Announcement

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But please be sure to like or share this post before you go – with those handy-dandy buttons below and in the slider to the left. Thanks for the support – it helps a lot! Plus, if I see a lot of shares, I know exactly what kind of content you’d like me to focus on more in the future. I’ve got a whole series of posts like this one that I’d love to put together for you, if there’s enough interest. So, let me know before you go!

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P.S. Now that you’ve learned the optimal way to perform the plank exercise, it’s time to test it out for yourself: Click here to check out the 5 Minute Plank Challenge For Core Strength, Stability, and Rock-Hard Abs.

Related Posts:

The Right Way to do the Plank Exercise

30 Days to a 5 Minute Plank and Rock-Hard Abs

The 5 Minute Plank For Core Strength, Stability, and Rock-Hard Abs

How to do the Side Plank Exercise for the Best Results

Another Plank World Record That We Can All Learn From

Training Tips From The 3+ Hour Plank World Record Holder

The Ballistic Plank Exercise for Rock-Hard Abs

The Elbow Plank VS Pushup Position Plank

How Long to Hold a Plank

Beginner Level Core Strengthening Exercises

Note: this post is sponsored by SpecForce Abs

SpecForce Abs

50 Responses

  1. The right way to do the plank exercise is to incorporate the movement into a very slow and deliberate pushup. Now there’s value for time spent. Dynamic compound exercises are much more lethal. Try mixing up the ratios: 2 seconds top, 2 seconds middle, and 2 seconds with nose and chest grazing the floor. Or 3:1:3. Or 2:3:2. What a blast.

    • Good suggestions, Tom. Some of the components of the plank exercise also apply to the pushup and its many variations. Pushups with a pause in the top, middle, and bottom position were a favorite of mine back in my Track and Field days. My teammates hated me for putting them through it :D

  2. My planks have evolved as I was finding being able to hold the position for 3 minutes a bore. I now front plank with my left arm and right leg raised plus vica versa. I can do this for only 1 minute in total…..what could you suggest for the next level of plank?


  3. John (aka Wish I Were Riding)

    Wish I understood the breathing part better. But I probably am not strong enough to just jump in totally yet anyway. Thanks for the great instructional.

  4. I’ve only just got this message John but have to say these variations are very helpful……..Thanks

  5. John,
    Thanks for the instructions. I especially like the need to push back on your feet and push forward with your arms. That makes the whole structure feel really solid.
    In another post, Scott Sonnon talked about four planks – “front, side, other side and rear plank”.
    Is the rear plank just a “bridge” or “table”?

    Thanks again for the informative videos.


    • Thanks Michael. Rear plank is basically a table pose with your legs fully extended – knees locked and heels resting on the ground.

  6. I used to to do planks by hanging on for dear life.

    After following your instructions, I’ve doubled the length of time I hold the plank and also feel the benefits of good form.


    Thanks again

    • Fantastic to hear, Michael. Keep up the good work, and I’ll keep the articles and vids coming.

  7. I’ve made it to 3 mins on a regular basis now. Brilliant!

    What I find interesting is that my point of failure are my arms. They get sore long before I feel anything in my core.

  8. I have done some of the insaity workouts which incorporates plank abdominals and other plank exercises. You video has been very helpful in understanding the postioning to work the approrpiate areas.

  9. Hi John,
    I just started doing the plank, no variations, LOL. I am up to 3minutes 30seconds… shaky but getting better. Really loud music works. Thanks for your post, it gives me other challenging options to aim for in the very near future. I’m gonna share your post on my fan page, I hope you don’t mind ;-) All the best ~Aymee

  10. Goodaye John.
    Thanks for your knowledgeable advice….Iplanked early this morning, about 30 minutes ago (5-30am). I have Sinead O’Connor on my laptop singing “nothing compaes to you” which goes for 5 min 30 sec.
    I felt good after. Then I was thinking (dangerous), when I was in the gym yesterday a young lass was doing light work, and then she was planking using one leg up in the air and changing. I thought …. while I was palnking, there must be a right way to do this…I’ll look on Google….found your site,,,,,read your details on how to,,,and then watched your video….VERY GOOD COBBA….Then after doinh all of your recomended and right way moves and positions,,,I turned on Sinead and whacko……After about 3 min 30 sec my body started to do the shimmy shakes…..I kept going to finish the song……WOWWWW…WHAT A DIFFERENCE IN YOU STYLE……At the end I was glad Sinead had finished ….VERY GOOD JOHN….and thanks.
    I am 62 years old…..76 kgs and working away from home 2 weeks on – 1week off, Going to the gym is a good outlet and my wife is very happy with my change as well == xxx ==
    Once again Thanks John and “KEEP ON SMILLIN”
    Cheers Digger Des, from South Australia.

  11. Arms get sore before abs

  12. Gary Turner

    I have gone from 3 mins to 6 mins in about 6 weeks. Great exercise. I am 38 now and still have great 6 pack. Lucky genes and planks.

  13. I just started planking and my instructor said ten seconds on the “still” plank then rock slowly back and forth head to toe for ten then tent for ten meaning basically pump up and down with exaggerated butt in the air. For three sets of these. Like i just said im just beginning so i can only hold still. Lol… im glad you have this video to show a more excellent. Way.

  14. Julie Crompton

    The last part of black belt testing for my 2nd degree black belt was a 5 minute knuckle plank. Makes a standard forearm plank seem easy. (I’m 56 years old & just happened to be the oldest person testing that day.)

  15. Very interesting. I just wanted to say that you cannot “over oxygenate” your blood tho. When your hemoglobines are full, they are full. But you can expell too much C02 by breating to fast or deep, wich will rise your blood’s ph level, leaving you light headed.
    That’s all.

    Article is great tho, thanks! :)

  16. Excellent and very helpful. Understanding the theory behind the exercise really helps me to get it. I accomplished 100 day challenge of push ups, squats and sit ups starting at 1and adding one of each per day. The strength I gained was amazing. Now I am concentrating on planking to build my core further. 58 y/o female. 130 lbs. 5’1/2″
    Thanks for a very well done tutorial.

  17. Hi, I’ve been trying to do the plank the way you’ve described. My problem is, I’m pretty sure my belly is bulging out a little while I hold the pose. I’ve had to children, so it normally is a little “puffy,” which is WHY I want to strengthen that area, but I’m afraid I’m making it worse with the plank. Any suggestions? Thanks!
    –Also, my back tends to hurt when I do it.

    • Hey Elisa,

      It’s normal for the belly to bulge out or hang down during the plank exercise. And one of the things you can do is suck it in throughout the whole set to tighten everything up as part of your core contraction. One thing is for sure, though. The plank won’t make your belly any worse! Also, if the back pain is less than a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being severe pain, 1 being no pain), then the plank is probably a safe exercise.

  18. Good Day John, I am a few days in following your input for the plank exercise. Each time I hear a clicking somewhere in my back area while holding the position. Does not hurt at all, but wondering if I am causing spine damage from this position. I do want to keep doing this as my body feels good after. I am 58 yrs young and do have a scoliosis curve at the lower end of the spine near the hip area. I never have issues with this and the specialist suggested whenever I exercise to work muscles evenly on both sides. Input appreciated.

    • Hi Jan,

      Sorry for the delay – must have missed this question. It sounds like something is out of alignment, and I’d also guess that you’re moving ever-so-slightly while holding the plank, which is causing the click to happen. If there’s no pain, and there’s no excessive soreness or achiness the next day, then it’s probably a safe exercise to use. That said, it’s never a bad idea to to run the exercise by your doctor/chiro/etc. and ask if it’ll exacerbate your condition. Also, I would see if remaining perfectly still while holding the plank helps to eliminate the clicking sound. So, even if you have to drop down a skill level and do an easier variation (e.g. elbow plank with knees down) that you can remain perfectly still throughout, try that.

  19. Hi John, my partner and I are very new to this so found your video very helpful in showing the correct method. My partner has osteoarthritis and tendonitis in the shoulder and will be going for physio next week to build up the muscles to help this condition. My question is will the plank help or hinder his condition? many thanks.

    • Hi Dawn,

      That’s a question for their doctor – not me (no way for me to know without evaluating in person). Generally speaking, assuming they’ve been cleared for exercise, if they can hold the plank without pain, then it’s probably a safe choice. But again, run the question by their doc/physio to be sure.

  20. Caroline

    I am watching this from England. Are there any Grizzly’s in those woods behind you? Watch out! Thanks for the instruction. Am doing my first 30 day plank challenge aiming to get to 90 seconds in 1 month. Am on day 24 so far and wavering around 60/70 seconds now. Can I do it???? The worst part I find is the pain in my toes and trying to hold my neck level not drop down.

  21. thank you, I appreciate your concern for alignment. I have been teaching yoga for years, and we also conduct plank pose. I actually like to compare traditional workout methods with some of the yoga postures. One thing that will also help your clients is what we call a root lock. This is the contraction of the anal sphincter, drawing it in and up, then drawing up the sex organs. The last part of this action is to draw the navel back towards the spin. This will support many exercises, strengthen the pelvic floor and also help with the transverse abdominal muscles.

  22. Hi John,
    Your explanations about plank are the most complete ones from the entire internet… :) Still, i have same questions that remain without answer till now:
    1. Are any side effects in doing planks? My gym instructor said that is not healthy for the hard if you are exercise daily…
    2. How often is it ok to practice it? Daily, 2-3 times per week, etc… And how many series with what pause between?
    3. Do i need other exercises for core and abdomen at the gym, or plank is anough?

    Than you

    • Hi Daniel,

      Planks are a very low risk exercise. So, assuming that you do them with good form and without pain, there’s not too much to worry about in terms of side effects. Of course, too much of anything can and will eventually result in imbalances throughout the body, but that’s beyond the scope of this blog comment :)

      I’d recommend against doing planks daily. 1-3 times a week is enough for the vast majority of people – most athletes included. In some rare cases, doing planks 4-5 times per week may offer slightly better results, but proper programming becomes critical. And again, this frequency of training is not necessary for most people. You can go a long way with 3 good sessions weekly.

      Here’s a program I created that will answer your 2nd question in a little more depth (regarding how much time to hold them, and how much rest, etc.):

      re: is the plank enough?

      That depends on your goals. For some people, plank training may be all the direct core work they need to achieve their goals. But if you want optimal strength, fitness, performance, and aesthetics, then you’ll benefit from training your core in a variety of ways – including a compound and full body exercises and other direct core work.

      Any more questions, just let me know – happy to help.

      • Hi John, thanks for your answers.
        My goal is to reduce the fat percent around 11% and to have a visible 6 packs abb. At this point there is around 14,5%. I started to do exercise at the gym (and to enjoy it :) ) when the doctor discover a small problem on the lumbar spine. Till then i had a sedentary lifestyle. That’s why i am afraid to do other abdominal exercises than plank, in order not to increase the damage.
        Meanwhile i increased the strengh of my core doing extensions, planks and backstroke swimming.

        Can you suggest me other abdominal exercises that will not damage the spine?

        Thank you

        • Most exercises, if performed properly in a suitable training program should not damage the spine at all. But if you have a pre-existing problem, then anything could potentially aggravate it. And there’s no way for me to know which exercises would be a good fit for you with your condition. Assuming your doctor has cleared you for exercise, I’d probably just evaluate exercises based on how they feel. If they cause pain, then avoid them.

          If you’re looking for ideas, then feel free to search the archives. I’ve got a lot of articles on abs and core training.

  23. Great article! It helped me understand various aspects of the plank. For me personally, it’s better when my hands look toward the floor (yoga dolphin plank). I don’t know why but there is less stress in my arm.
    Thanks for your tutorials. They reveal important details that others don’t judge necessary to develop.

  24. Hi. When I plunk, I get nerve pain. Sometimes it is only one arm and sometimes both. The pain shoots from my elbows. I am trying to follow the instruction but I don’t what I am doing wrong. Any thoughts?

    • It’s hard to say, but it doesn’t sound like a technique issue – probably an underlying problem/injury that the planks are just aggravating. Sorry that I can’t be of much more help.

  25. I have been doing the Plank four times a week at my gym for several years, and rarely did more than three minutes. In the past few months I have made enormous improvements, and in the last few weeks have gone from 6.1/2 minutes to this morning when I did 8 minutes 15 seconds. I find the most comfortable position is to grasp my two hands together, but I am 78 years old, and can beat everyone of all ages in my gym.

  26. Maureen Lawlor

    Loved your video!! I am not quite a beginner but have had problems in the past with sore arms after planks, sometimes causing me to stop doing them all together. Your video has given me many ideas of why this may be happening. I am going to change my form and will let you know how I make out. BTW, you mention that this may not be for beginners, but I find it is the perfect video for beginners to avoid injuries, and to make sure you have a great form!! Lets see how this 56 year old mom does now!!!!

  27. reynaldo jimenez

    I had read everything and I very interesting I will try it.
    I am 75years old. I lost my muscles but I am go to see what happen. thank you

  28. Thank you John!!!

  29. I am doing two sets of elbow plank (90 seconds each), two sets of full plank (90 seconds each), three sets of side plank (40 seconds for right and 40 seconds for left), total: 10 minutes. I have started with one minute and in a month I have reached to 10 minutes. I wanted to ask that if I want to improve further, should I increase the repetitions or the time?

  30. Hello John;

    I have considered planking before. I like the 28 day approach. I have limited physical ability and the only exercise I have found I can do is deep Tantric breathing. to the point, Can planking be done effectively if done from the knees instead of the balls of the foot? I am missing part of one foot and cannot achieve the proper balance. Any suggestions for how to do a plank effectively from the knee positon vs the foot position?

    Thank you

    • Hi Judy,

      Yes, planks can be done from the knees rather than the feet. This will make the exercise a little easier (since you’ll be supporting less of your weight). And so, you may need to implement some other changes to make them harder, like these: 10 Ways to Make Planks Harder. And feel free to use some kind of a pad for beneath your knees to make it more comfortable.

  31. Hi I carn’t see the video 😧

  32. Amazing video with so much detail. Very effective way to demonstrate 👍

  33. Awesome video. Beautifully exlaimed all the details..

  34. Stacey McGregor

    Thank you for a great article.
    The plank can help you get rid of fat layers around the belly, waist, shape your buttocks, relieve the pain in your back, and speed up your metabolism.
    The main benefit of the plank is getting tight glutes and thighs.

    By shaping your buttocks you are getting rid of cellulite, which is a great bonus.

    You will also tighten your hips and thighs because you are doing this exercise mainly with your legs.

    A similar thing happens to your arms and if you’re doing the plank right, you will get toned abs and a stronger back, as well.

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