What's So Great About Planks?

Love ’em or hate ’em, planks are a staple in the fitness world -- for good reason.

By Gina Harney

As a group fitness instructor, I know I’m going to see two types of reactions when I tell a class to plank:
Groans from the people who hate planks with a fiery passion;
Grins from the people who absolutely love them.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, planks are a staple in the fitness world. And for good reason: they challenge your entire body (particularly your core), they don’t require equipment, and almost anyone can do them (modify by placing your hands on a wall, a chair, or lowering your knees to the floor).

So what’s so great about planks?

Planks build core strength, promote balance, and encourage solid posture. And they’re an extremely “functional” exercise, which means that they mimic movement that we perform throughout the day (when we’re standing, we’re in a moving plank!).

For the best plank possible, keep your neck long, pull in your belly, press back through your heels, and keep your hips in line with your torso. If you need to modify by lowering your knees, make sure to keep your hips down – it’s tempting for them to pop up.

Planks work all of your major muscle groups. You may feel it immediately in your core, but after about 10 seconds, your body starts to recruit supporting muscles to hold itself up. Some of the muscles you’ll use during plank: your shoulders, back, deep core muscles (transverse abdominis) and even your legs. If you want to use planks as a pure core workout, plank for 10 seconds, rest for 3 seconds, then 10 seconds on, 3 seconds rest, for up to 6 rounds.

Change it up! If for any chance you get bored with a standard plank, you can try some of the following variations:

  • The saw. Maintain a plank position as you slowly move forward and back.
  • Plank with leg lifts. Life one leg off the floor (make sure to keep your hips parallel to the floor) and pulse your leg towards the ceiling 20 times, squeezing your glute to lift your leg. Switch sides.
  • Rotating side plank. Rotating from a traditional plank to a side plank, then back to center, then side plank on the opposite side.
  • Elbow lower and lifts. Start with a plank on your hands, then one at a time, lower your elbows to the floor. Keep your core pulled in as you press back up to your hands.
  • Plank balance. This is a really challenging one! Try to keep your plank position (long and torso in one straight line) as you lift one hand off the floor. Once you regain balance, try lifting the opposite leg as well. Take a few deep breaths and repeat on the opposite side.
More planking tips:

  • Make sure that you can keep your core supported and you’re taking deep breaths the entire time. If you feel like the exercise is causing you to push your core out and you don’t feel supported, that’s a great cue to modify.
  • If you are newly postpartum or pregnant, I recommend that you avoid planks. They can cause intra abdominal pressure on the connective tissue that is separating to make room for the baby. And too much pressure can contribute to diastasis recti, which is when the core muscles remain abnormally separated after baby arrives.