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YOU KNOW what they SAYING: Work smarter, not harder.
You may have already incorporated that mentality into your training routine, subbing unfocused, 60-minute workouts for strategic 30-minute sessions, or opting for an active recovery day instead of another grueling HIIT class.
Bravo for the balance! But what about your planks? If you’re still holding for minutes on end, you're wasting your time. Less is more when it comes to this OG core exercise—at least when it comes to the number on the clock.
You might look around at the gym and notice the other people sweating around you are up in the plank position for either brief moments or marathon holds.
If you're wondering how long the average exerciser holds a plank, you're asking the wrong question. There's really no such thing as a standard here—everyone is working toward different goals, from different starting points and with different levels of fitness.
The better question is: how long should you hold a plank?
Generally speaking, time under tension is a great thing for growing muscles. However, anything beyond two minutes for a plank is at best, meaningless, or at most, harmful.
“Enough is enough,” Dan John, Men’s Health contributor and author of “Can You Go?” told us previously. “It’s just a plank. More is not better.”
So, what does that mean for your planks? How long should you be holding one for best results, and how can you ensure you’re getting max benefit for your effort?
Here, Kevin Car, CSFC and co-founder of Movement As Medicine, shares how to up your planking game and give this core-stabilizing exercise the attention it deserves.
read more: 7 BENEFITS OF PLANK EXERCISES
How Long Should You Hold a Plank?
Whether you’re a beginner wanting to build core strength or looking to dial into your planks, the exercise can help create intra-abdominal pressure and develop isometric, anti-extension strength in the obliques and rectus abdominis muscles, according to Carr.
It’s a “great tool to develop anterior core strength and the ability to statically control your spine, rib cage, and pelvis in the sagittal plane,” he says.
As far as what to aim for, “I would recommend working to hold a front plank for up to one minute maximum,” says Carr.
That’s because your form can start to suffer the longer you’re in it and contribute to low back pain, not to mention planks aren’t a functional exercise in that you don’t do them in everyday life, he explains.
Beyond 60 seconds, “you start to reach a point of diminishing returns, and it’s probably best to start progressing toward exercises that are multi-planar and or more dynamic."
If you're doing the plank properly, you'll be struggling to hold the position much sooner than you'd expect.
This could mean that you only hold a plank for 10 seconds, or that you last all the way to 60 seconds. To start, make 20 to 30 second holds your goal.
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How to Get the Most Out of Your Planks
Before moving on to plank variations or progressing to tougher core moves, you want to ensure you are really nailing the proper plank.
There's a huge difference between a loose, mindless plank and a strong, stable plank with great engagement, says Carr.
“When you focus on setting up properly and actively engaging your abdominal muscles in the front plank, you’ll find that you get much more out of the exercise and won’t be able to hold it for that long,” he says.
“Often, in a relaxed front plank, you just hang out at the top of plank position with poor spinal alignment via passive tension in your spine rather than actively using our abdominal muscles to stabilize the position.”
How to Do the Plank
- Get down on the ground and stack your elbows directly beneath your shoulders, legs extended. Rest your weight on your elbows and your toes.
- Squeeze your glutes and core to create full-body tension. Think about pulling your belly button into your spine.
- Contract your low back, lats, and rhomboids. Your back should form a straight line; don't let your pelvis dip down or your butt to rise up.
- Face your gaze face down, which keeps your neck in a neutral position.
- Maintain tension for as long as you hold the plank. If you lose tension before the time elapses, end the hold.
Focus on improving the quality and intensity of your plank rather than trying to hold it for as long as possible.
You “should think about actively engaging your anterior abdominals, glutes, and adductors and actively breathing to maximize the effectiveness of the exercise,” he adds. Once you’ve truly got the plank down pat, you can think about leveling it up with progressions.
Other Plank Variations
Break up the monotony of forearm and high planks with these genius variations that offer variety for your mind and muscles.
“After mastering the plank, you should move toward exercises that will challenge the core dynamically and force you to resist motion in multiple planes of motion,” says Carr.
Plank Shoulder Taps
- Begin in a high plank position with palms under shoulders, pelvis tucked, and core braced. Place feet out slightly wider than hip-distance to create a wider center of gravity.
- Lift your left hand and bring it to your right shoulder. Pause for a couple of seconds, then return your hand to the ground.
- Repeat on the opposite side by tapping right hand to left shoulder and return to starting position. Continue alternating shoulder taps while keeping hips steady.
Sets and Reps: 8 to 10 taps per arm
- Begin on all fours with hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Press palms into the ground with the inside of the elbow facing forward to engage the lats.
- Brace the core as you lift the knees just an inch or two off the ground and hold. Take a deep breath as you draw your navel into your spine.
Sets and Reps: Hold in the same way you would a standard plank, starting at 30 seconds
Plank with Leg Lifts
- Begin in a forearm plank position with elbows under shoulders, knees off the ground, pelvis tucked and glutes engaged. You can bring feet out a bit wider than hips-distance apart to create strong stability.
- Brace your core as you lift your right leg up just an inch or two to hover off the floor. Pause for a second or two, then return toes to the floor.
- Repeat on the other side, lifting your left leg a couple of inches off the floor, hold, then return toes to the ground.
- Continue alternating heel lifts being mindful not to rotate at the hips.
Sets and Reps: 8 to 10 lifts per leg