Harness the power of planking in your fitness routine
Whether you want six-pack abs or content for your social media channel (#PlankChallenge, anyone?), plank exercises are equal parts fun trend and health mainstay.
“A plank is when you hold your body in a straight and in-line position like a plank of wood,” says exercise physiologist Katie Lawton, MEd. And when done correctly, it leads to a host of health benefits.
5 plank benefits
While the promise of getting a six-pack from planks may be overblown (Lawton says that’s more diet-related), they still offer many benefits, including:
Planking is free and takes only a couple of minutes — no gym membership or special equipment required. “You can do it anywhere,” Lawton says.
2. Protects your back
The ability to brace your core is important for many everyday activities. “Our core needs to be strong to protect the spine when doing things that can cause back pain, such as lifting your child up or leaning forward to unload the dishwasher,” she says.
3. Prevents exercise-related injuries
Squatting, dead-lifting and pressing overhead without injury is hard to do without a strong core. “We need to keep our spine straight to do these exercises. Planking provides you with better core strength to be able to brace during these movements,” Lawton says.
4. Improves posture
While Lawton says planking alone won’t improve your posture, muscle memory might. “If you can remember to brace your core throughout the day, it can help keep your lower back in a position where you’re standing or sitting up straighter.”
5. Boosts mental health
“Exercise can have a positive effect on our mental health,” Lawton says. “When you see yourself getting stronger, it can be encouraging. It’s also important to breathe while you plank to further engage your core muscles. Some breathing techniques can help boost your mood.”
What muscles do planks work?
Plank exercises work your core muscles, which are located between your pelvic floor and diaphragm. The area is also known as your trunk. These muscles support your movements and stabilize the spine.
Core muscles include:
How to do a plank
To do a traditional high plank, get in a pushup position and hold, with your body lifted off the ground. For proper form, make sure your:
How long should you hold a plank?
“Hold a plank for about a minute before you start advancing,” Lawton says. “Once you can do three sets of one minute in a modified plank exercise, then progress to the low plank. If you start off at three sets of 30 seconds in a low plank, try to hold it longer and longer as the weeks go by. Same thing with the high plank.”
To reap the maximum benefits, Lawton recommends:
What about side planks?
Not to be neglected, your obliques have a plank exercise designed just for them. To do a side plank:
Need help with planking?
Plank exercises provide an almost endless variety of ways to strengthen your core muscles. But with so many options, you may wonder where to start.
“Personal trainers are a great resource when you start an exercise program. They are well-educated about planks and how to progress people to more challenging movements,” Lawton says. “If you have a history of back pain, your physical therapist is another great option. They can give you good guidance about how to do a plank safely.”