The plank is one of the greatest exercises for working a whole bunch of different muscles at once (including those hard-to-reach lower abdominals) with no equipment other than a flat surface. And while it’s challenging to do for an extended period of time, the truth is that you’re probably holding a plank for much longer than necessary. So, how long do you actually need to hold one to really see results? Only as long as you can maintain proper form, experts say.
For some athletic superstars, that might mean holding a plank for three full minutes (or even longer), but if 30 seconds is all you can do before your quads start to shake and your shoulders shout out in pain, that’s totally fine. "Pushing yourself to hold a plank for too long is going to end up doing more harm than good. It will strain your muscles and put pressure on joints and other areas that you don't actually want to be working or pushing," says Laura Martens, DPT.
This is great news for anyone who’s been struggling to break their personal plank record or who starts to get bored or distracted when holding one for longer than half a minute. A few rounds of 30-second planks might be much better for you and your training than powering through for a super-long but ineffective hold.
So what does proper plank form look like? "Elbows (or hands) on the ground positioned just below your shoulders, back straight and feet shoulder width apart. Keeping your back and hips in line is probably the most important thing to keep in mind to make this exercise most effective," confirmed Martens. A good rule of thumb to tell if you're doing it correctly: If you’re not feeling anything in your abs or glutes, then you’re probably doing it wrong.
Lucky for us, Mariska Breland, founder of Fuse Pilates, has a handy tip to ensure you’re really engaging your core and aligning correctly—rotate your hips to tuck in your butt. This simple tweak will help ensure your lower back doesn’t start to sag and strain your spine.
So the next time you gear up for a round of bodyweight exercises, forget about trying to beat your sister’s impressive four-minute record. Instead, focus on doing more reps of shorter, proper planks and prepare to feel it in your core a whole lot more in the days to come.