The Plank Exercise – Most Effective Core Exercise

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Crunches?

Forget ‘em!

The days of performing endless crunches are officially over.

Not only are these exercises ineffective, but they can cause damage to your spinal column. There is a safer and more effective exercise you can do to strengthen your core – the plank exercise.

The plank is an isometric exercise that helps build endurance in your entire core – rectus abdominus, obliques, lower back and stabilizing muscles. It is a powerful but simple exercise that you can do at home.

Let’s discuss how the plank exercise is done and why it’s so effective.

How to Perform the Plank Exercise:

Follow the directions below and use the image as a reference to learn how to do a proper plank exercise.

  1. Lie face down on a mat,
  2. Raise up onto your toes and rest on your elbows,
  3. Keep your back flat, keeping your body in a straight line from head to heels,
  4. Contract your abs to ensure your body doesn’t drop,
  5. Hold position for designated time.

One thing that will help you perform this exercise is if you pull your belly button towards your spine. This will help you engage the deep abdominal muscles that help support your back.

If you’ve never performed a plank, you might be wondering how balancing on your toes and elbows is supposed to work your core. Good question. As you balance, gravity will pull your midsection towards the ground and your lower back will have the tendency to sag. To prevent this, you need to contract your abdominal muscles to keep your body properly aligned.

You will notice your body starting to shake after holding the plank position for a few seconds. This indicates lack of strength and stabilization in your abdominal region.

As you continue practicing the plank exercise, you will notice drastic improvement in your core strength and coordination. You will be able to hold the position for much longer before starting to shake.

What are some Variations to the Plank Exercise?

Modified Plank
If you’re having trouble initially holding the plank position, try the modified plank exercise. Everything is the same except that instead of balancing on your toes you will balance on your knees. This is a simple variation and is a great starting point if you lack abdominal strength. Remember that it’s not about where you start, but where you end up.Side Plank
This variation of the plank exercise targets your obliques. Keep your body aligned and stable while you balance on one forearm and the side of your lower foot. Keep your other hand straight in the air or rested on your hip. Repeat the same for other side.

Arm Lift and Leg Lift
This is a slightly more difficult variation of the regular plank. As you hold the plank, extend one arm out in front of you (so you’re balancing on your toes and one forearm) and hold this position for 3 seconds keeping your core tight. Bring your arm back slowly to its original position and repeat with the other arm.

You can perform the same variation with your legs. Extend one leg fully (so you are only balancing on your forearms and one toe) and hold this position for 3 seconds. Bring your leg back and repeat with the other leg.

You can combine these two variations to make the plank really difficult. Extend opposite arm and leg and hold for 3 seconds. For instance, extend left leg and right arm and hold while keeping your core tight. Repeat the exercise by extending right leg and left arm.

Exercise Equipment
Certain pieces of exercise equipment makes stabilization more difficult. The idea is to perform the regular plank exercise but with your toes or  forearms on a bosu ball or swiss ball. This is a more advanced variation so progress to these once you’ve mastered the regular planks and easier variations.

The plank exercise is by far the most effective core building exercise. Start including it in your workouts immediately and get rid of those spine-damaging crunches. Start slowly. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t hold the plank for long periods. Keep working and try different variations. You’ll build great abdominal strength with this exercise.

Is the plank exercise in your routine? Do you know of any unique plank variations? Share in the comments below!

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Comments

  1. Its great exercise that’s easily forgotten over other more flashier exercises but do this one and it counts for a lot.
    Like the variations there are so many
    Raymond

  2. Like the post, and love the exercise. When you first start out, you may only be able to hold it for five to ten seconds, but stick with it. Once you hit a minutes you relize the true benifit of this exercise.

  3. Very nice post! I love the information accompanied with the photos to show the exercises. Planks can be varied enough for beginners and experts and are excellent for working the entire core and not just the abs. I was about 3 or 4 years ago that I really got hooked on planks when I saw them but Rusty really made be a believer from his site.

    I haven’t done crunches in almost five years and don’t plan on ever doing them again.

    -Thomas

    • Nice to hear you’ve been doing them for some time now. How long can you hold a plank for? I try to throw in at least two variations when I’m doing my planks to help me build all-around core strength. And definitely stay away from the crunches-they’re killer (not in a good way)!

      • I am entertaining the idea of trying the plank(s), but I am confused on what you actually do during the plank..? I understand the muscles that have responsibilities, but what of your mind? Do you think about the muscles (ouch), Do you watch TV (1 minute TV seems difficult, especially during commercials [ouch]), do you imagine what your body will look like..eventually? I respect any of those choices, but I am not sure they can entertain me enough to plank for 5 minutes at a time. (..and I don’t like the thinking of a special place with green grass and unicorns). Help Please, G~

        • Hey Greg, the plank is a very challenging exercise, both physically and mentally (as you have found). Here’s what I do: I have a small checklist of things I need to make sure I’m doing so I’m using good planking technique: body is straight, hips aren’t sagging, elbows underneath shoulders, etc. I’m constantly running through this checklist to make sure things are in line. That usually keeps me entertained. Other than that, try a few things and use what works best!

  4. The plank exercise is one of my favorite core building exercises. I stopped doing crunches a long time ago.

    The plank builds muscular endurance in your core without putting stress on your lower back.

    Good post.

    Best – Mike

  5. You got it man! Planks are the best. The simple things are usually the most beneficial, but mentally the hardest to accomplish. I agree with Bryan, that once you hit the 1 minute mark, you really get the best from this exercise. Love the pictures.

    Cheers,
    Jordan

    • I completely agree Jordan – the simpler things are usually the most effective but the most mentally taxing. I’m currently doing 3 sets of 2min planks. Moving up to that 3min mark for 3 sets soon!

  6. Good post. I believe the plank and it’s variations are the best core exercises you can do. They tend to get overlooked for shiny pretty machines and other fancy moves. Plus most people don’t like them or don’t want to come out their comfort zone.

    • I like that you brought up the comfort zone, Louis. Planks aren’t easy, but they work if you’re willing to step outside of your zone a bit and put in the work. The results are incredible.

  7. Wow, Srdjan, awesome post.

    What I like to do with planks is contract the glutes hard and at the same time tilt the pelvis up and slightly tuck in the sternum towards the belly button, This is essentially the gymnastic hollow position and the ab tension is great.

    Yavor

    • Thanks man! I’ve tried contracting my glutes during the exercise and it’s a completely different feeling – I love it! I’ll try tilting my pelvis up to see how it feels. Thanks for the tip!

  8. I like doing planks on a swiss ball for a bigger challenge and when I’m feeling strong I put my feet on a bench to create that extra burn..

    Great post brother!

    • I use swiss balls and bosu balls most extensively. They’re a great challenge. But, most recently, I’ve been using medicine balls as well. They’re much harder and, depending on the size of the ball, can be an extremely difficult variation. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

  9. I love the plank because it’s harder than it looks. It’s great for travel as you can do it with no equipment. I have a bosu ball but never tried the plank on it – I will definitely mix up my routine with these variations. This is my first visit to your site and I can see it will be very useful for me, Ellyn Deuink

    • The plank definitely looks harder than it is, Ellyn. The problem comes when your body begins to adapt to the exercise. It starts to become easier and easier to do. At this point it is important to add a bit of variation to shock your muscles – to challenge them in a way they’re not used to. Only this way can you continue getting results.

      I remember when, after lots of practice, I was able to easily hold a plank for 2 minutes. So I added swiss balls and bosu balls into the mix and was back down to only being able to hold the plank for a minute or so. It was simply something my muscles weren’t used to.

  10. I tried it with my Bosu and WOW! It was much harder. I was shaking so bad and that must be good for me. :)

    • Great to see that you’ve taken action, Ellyn! The bosu ball is an effective tool so continue incorporating it into your exercises.

      • BRENDA DICK says:

        I’m going to combine this with your three at home timesavers and tack them onto the end of my walks on the days I’m not running!!! Thanks again for more help!!! I love your revolution!!! I am spreading the word! The best part… showing my kids by being an example! only one week and they are eating better and cautiously asking about a one mile fun run event we could do together!!! Friends are already asking too!! How’s that for some Zen positive living for you? Thanks for being a positive voice!!

        • Brenda that is absolutely awesome news!!

          First of all, thank you so much for spreading the word! I appreciate it more than you know!

          Secondly, you’re doing an absolutely amazing job of being a positive role model to your kids and to your friends. As soon as people see you stepping outside of your comfort zone and making an effort to change your life for the better, it motivates them to do the same. Always keep challenging yourself and never let anybody or anything hold you back.

          Thank you for being a dedicated fitness bloomer. You have truly made my day :D

  11. Planks are excellent exercises.
    I’ve incorporated both regular and sides. They have really strengthen my core and I am actually, thanks to them, able to squat more

    • You bring up a great point Bob – having a strong core (not just abs) can help you perform other exercises more effectively. Squats require a lot of core strength for support and stabilization so it’s no surprise you’ve been able to squat more after incorporating planks. They are really powerful.

      Keep up the great work!

  12. Great post. 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 suggest for the next level of plank?

    • If you can hold a regular plank for 3 minutes then your core strength is way up there! I usually do my planks in sets of 2 minutes – I do 3 sets of 2 min planks with 60s of rest in between.

      To take your planks to the next level you need to incorporate instability. You can do this using Bosu Balls or Stability Balls. The instability factor should provide the extra challenge you’re looking for.

      You can always try incorporating different abdominal exercises such as the Renegade Row –> check it out here. My abdominal workout only consists of these two exercises.

  13. The plank exercise is one of the best ab exercises and is ranked 4th out of 13 exercises for the oblique abdominal exercises. For those starting out new it is advised to gradually increase the seconds one can hold the position. It’s rewarding when the core strength improves by the length of time.

  14. Great Article! Love the plank, especially when you try and kick it up a notch on a Swiss ball.

  15. Great exercise! I tried it just know, it was a god felling and a 4min 6sec result. Surprisingly i realised that the exercise I do myself (as it’s been show to me long time ago) is n more no less than high plank. (starting push up position) think it is much harder, cause I can’t hold it for even 2 min. It can have same variations and be even more challenging.

    • Wow 4+ min is awesome Nikita! I’ve heard people say they find the starting push up position plank to be more difficult but I’ve never found that to be the case for myself personally (maybe it depends on a person’s physiology). Keep up the awesome work!

  16. Lester Fox says:

    Wuau nice article; do you know what other abdominal excercises are safe, I’m trying to make an ah workout routine and deffinitely I’ll include planks. I have read that regular sit ups and crunches are not safe for the back. Thank you for your time and dedication.

    • Hey Lester! I would say that the only three abdominal exercises I would consider ‘safe’ and effective are planks, renegade rows, and hanging leg raises. I usually mix two of these into my workout once or twice a week.

      Let me know if you need any help setting up your routine!

  17. I do my planks by holding the upper pushup position after completing my pushups. Is this as effective as doing them on your elbows?

  18. So I guess that my recently bought “Ab training for dummies” DVD (indeed with all the crunches and variations) can go straight into the shredder?
    And “Planks” is the word? Hm, could have saved myself a few Euro’s if I found your website a couple of days sooner :) But it’s in my favorites now and I find it a great help and inspiration. Thanx.

  19. Planks are great, but really if you do pushups and mountain climbers, you are doing “moving planks”. There is some concern among folks who have hypertension about doing isometric exercises, which the regular plank is. We all have to do what is best for ourselves.

  20. Thanks for this Serge, am a long time chronic lower back pain sufferer and found a ‘cure’ a couple of months ago (short jogs) but longer jogs (8-10 miles) made things worse again. I tried the plank and couldn’t hold it for 10 seconds but after a month of ‘practice’ can easily do a minute plus now and longer runs are no longer painful – it really is a simple(ish) yet effective exercise.

    btw, found your site via your skipping vid (rope is in the post).

  21. I teach my clients planks all the time! Especially since I show mostly rehabilitative and functional exercise, and many people I see get injured due to weak core muscles. Core exercises are great for strength and balance, but also injury prevention!

    • Awesome! Casey, what other core strengthening exercises do you use with your clients?

      • A lot of core stabilization stuff. I like to have them lie on their backs longways on a full length foam roller, so that their head and pelvis are supported (knees bent with feet flat on the ground). Not using their hands as much as possible to avoid rolling off to either side. Pelvic tilts to warm up, holding each one for about 10 seconds to get the core engaged. Then various movements of lifting each foot off of the ground about 4-5″ and holding for 10 seconds, repeating each side 10 times each, all while maintaining the pelvic tilt position. That is just one example, think “dead bug” type core exercises, but lying on the foam roll is great to make it harder and really target those core stabilizer muscles.

  22. Great article! I just started doing planks last night. I’m aiming for that toned, flat, tight stomach look as opposed to the block- esque sick pack abs look. I was wondering, bicycle crunches are one of my go- to ab workouts… what do you think of those?

    • Hey Kayla, I’m really not a fan of any ‘crunch’ style exercises because you are still flexing your lower back in the process (can be dangerous). The core is designed for stability and so stabilizing exercises (like planks, renegade rows, etc.) are best.

  23. Hi just started these yesterday and they feel good to do. Is there anything esle that I should be doing to help as I am not into all this fitness but would like to get into it.

    Cheers

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