YOU KNOW THE WORD: Work smarter, not harder. You may have already incorporated this mentality into your workout routine, substituting unfocused 60-minute workouts for strategic 30-minute workouts, or choosing an active recovery day instead of another grueling HIIT class. Bravo for balance! But what about your board? If you’re keeping minutes, you’re wasting your time. Less is more when it comes to this OG core exercise, at least when it comes to the watch number.
You might look around at the gym and notice other sweaty people around you in the plank position for either short bursts or marathons. If you’re wondering how long the average exerciser holds a plank, you’re asking the wrong question. There really is no such thing as a standard here, everyone works towards different goals, from different starting points and at different fitness levels. The better question is: how long should you hold a plank?
Generally speaking, under tension is good for building muscle. However, anything beyond two minutes for a plank is, at best, irrelevant or at best counterproductive. Enough, Dan John, Men’s Health contributor and author Can you go? told us earlier. It’s just a board. More is not better.
So what does that mean for your plank? How long should it be kept for the best results and how can you make sure you get the most out of your effort? Here, Kevin Carr, CSFC and one of the founders Movement as medicinetells you how to up your planking game and give this core-stabilizing exercise the attention it deserves.
How long should a plank be kept?
According to Carr, the exercise can help create intra-abdominal pressure and develop isometric, anti-stretch strength in the obliques and rectus abdominis, whether you’re a beginner looking to build core strength or hitting the planks. It’s a great tool for developing core core strength and the ability to statically control the spine, chest and pelvis in the sagittal plane, he says.
As for the goal, I’d recommend working to hold the front plank for no more than a minute, says Carr. That’s because your form can start to suffer the longer you’re in it and cause lower back pain, not to mention that planks aren’t a functional exercise because you don’t do them in everyday life, she explains. After 60 seconds or more, you start to reach a point of diminishing returns and it’s probably best to start moving towards exercises that are multi-level and or more dynamic.”
If you do the plank correctly, you will struggle to hold your position much faster than you expected. This could mean holding the plank for just 10 seconds, or going all the way for 60 seconds. Start by making a 20-30 second goal.
How to get the most out of your boards
Before moving on to plank variations or moving on to harder core moves, you want to make sure you’re actually nailing the right plank. There’s a huge difference between a loose, crazy plank and a strong, stable plank, Carr says.
When you focus on proper positioning and actively engaging your abs in the front plank, you’ll find you get a lot more out of the exercise and you won’t be able to hold it for as long, he says. Often in a relaxed front plank you are just hanging out at the top of the plank position with poor spinal alignment through passive tension in the spine instead of actively using our abs to stabilize the position.
How to make a plank
- Get down on the ground and place your elbows directly under your shoulders with your legs extended. Rest your weight on your elbows and toes.
- Squeeze your glutes and core to create full-body tension. Think of pulling a button on your spine.
- Contract the lower back, floor and rhomboids. Your back should form a straight line; don’t let your hips sink down or your rear end up.
- Direct your gaze downward, keeping your neck in a neutral position.
- Maintain tension as long as you hold the plank. If you lose tension before the time is up, stop the hold.
Focus on improving the quality and intensity of the plank instead of trying to hold it as long as possible. To maximize the effectiveness of the exercise, you should consider actively engaging the front abdominals, glutes and adductors and active breathing to maximize the effectiveness of the exercise. Once you’ve really got the plank down, you can consider smoothing it out with progress.
Other plank variations
Break up the monotony of forearms and high threads with these ingenious variations that offer variety to your mind and muscles. After mastering the plank, you should move toward exercises that dynamically challenge the core and force you to resist movement in multiple planes of motion, Carr says.
Plank Shoulder taps
- Start in a high plank position with your palms under your shoulders, hips tucked in and core supported. Place your feet slightly wider than hip distance apart to create a wider center of gravity.
- Raise your left hand and bring it to your right shoulder. Pause for a couple of seconds and then lower your hands back to the ground.
- Repeat on the opposite side, tapping the right hand to the left shoulder and return to the starting position. Continue tapping your shoulders alternately while keeping your hips stable.
Sets and reps: 8-10 taps per hand
- Start on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Press your palms into the ground with the inside of your elbow pointing forward to secure the platform.
- Engage your core as you lift your knees just an inch or two off the ground and hold. Take a deep breath as you pull your navel into your spine.
Sets and reps: Hold as you would a regular plank, starting at 30 seconds
Plank with leg lifts
- Start in a forearm plank position with your elbows under your shoulders, knees off the ground, hips bent and glutes engaged. You can bring your feet slightly wider than hip distance apart to create strong stability.
- Engage your core as you lift your right leg up just an inch or two to float off the floor. Pause for a second or two, then return your toes to the floor.
- Repeat on the other side, lifting your left leg a couple of inches off the floor, hold, then return your toes to the ground.
- Continue alternating heel lifts being careful not to rotate your hips.
Sets and reps: 8-10 lifts per leg
Alyssa Sparacino is an ACE-certified personal trainer, former Shape editorial director, and editor and writer focused on fitness, health, and wellness. His work has been published online and in print for brands such as Shape, Health, Fortune, What to Expect, Mens Journal, Ask Men, Travel & Leisure, Chewy and more. When she’s not writing or lifting weights, you can find her hiking, exploring, and eating with her husband and rescue dog.
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