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.

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.

Wrap-Up

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!

Now that you’ve learned the optimal way to perform the plank exercise, it’s time to test it out for yourself:

Check out the 5 Minute Plank Challenge For Core Strength, Stability, and Rock-Hard Abs


Update: If you want to improve your plank performance, increase your core strength, and get ripped abs, then get on the VIP Waiting List for my upcoming core training system called “Hardcore Abs” which is currently in development.

Sign up using the form below and I’ll keep you posted on its release, give you an exclusive first look at the goods, and some other special perks that won’t be available to the public…







If you found this article helpful, please share it with your friends and tweeps:

Share

CST, CST-KS, NSCA-CPT
Fitness Professional

Related Posts:

Beginner Level Core Strengthening Exercises

Sophisticated Ab Crunches – better than regular old crunches and reverse crunches

The Bodyweight Glide Workout Series For Shredded Core Muscles

30 comments to The Right Way to do the Plank Exercise

  • TomG

    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.

    • John

      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

  • Nick

    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?

    Nick

  • 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.

  • Nick

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

  • Michael

    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.

    Michael

  • Michael

    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.

    Brilliant!!!

    Thanks again

  • Michael

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • Meow

    Arms get sore before abs

  • 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.

  • julie

    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.

  • 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.)

  • Raphael

    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! :)

  • Linda

    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.

  • Elisa

    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.

    • John

      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.

  • Jan

    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.

    • John

      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.

  • 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.

    • John

      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.

  • 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.

Leave a Reply

 

 

 

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>