The plank is a classic exercise that works your muscles from head to toe.

Though you may dread the idea of a plank, you’ll reap many benefits from this simple and equipment-free move.

That said, you may wonder how it will get you in shape, what muscles it targets, and how to know whether you’re doing it correctly.

What muscles do planks work?

The plank is a full body exercise, meaning it targets muscles of the upper body, core, and lower body.

Core muscles

Despite the fact that you’re supporting your body weight on your arms and toes, the heart does most of the job in a plank. Your rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis are specifically targeted.

The rectus abdominis is the upper layer of the abdominal muscles. When body fat levels are minimal, these muscles become apparent and are referred to as a “six-pack.”

The transverse abdominis, on the other hand, is the deep abdominal muscle layer known as the “corset” muscle. It aids in cinching your stomach and stabilizing your back muscles.

The plank also engages the inner and outer obliques, as well as your spinal erectors (back muscles). When the obliques on both sides of the body work together, they have a stabilizing effect, especially by keeping the ribs and hips aligned.

Upper body

The plank also engages the inner and outer obliques, as well as your spinal erectors (back muscles). When the obliques on both sides of the bodywork together, they have a stabilizing effect, especially by keeping the ribs and hips aligned.

Lower body

Your core muscles and lower body are highly connected, which means both help stabilize your body during the plank.

You’re focusing on your quadriceps (front of thighs) and gluteal muscles (buttocks), which are connected to your abdominal and lower back muscles. These muscles work together to support and secure the hips.

The hamstrings are also involved. Since you’re in a plank posture, you’re fighting against gravity to keep your body in balance. In a plank, your hamstrings assist with hip extension, allowing you to maintain a straight line from your trunk to your knees.

SUMMARY

The plank is considered a full-body workout. In particular, it targets your abdominal and lowers back muscles.

Benefits of the plank

There are many benefits of performing the plank exercise.

A strong core

A stable center is important for everyday life activities. Your heart plays an important part in everything from bending for shopping bags to throwing a golf club.

The plank exercise is great for physical stamina, or your muscles’ capacity to exercise for an extended period of time. It’s an isometric workout, which means you keep your muscles contracted in one posture during the whole exercise movement.

Normal plank practice has been found to enhance core strength and stability.

Lower risk of injury

Many core exercises will lead to injury. In particular, situps and crunches will place considerable pressure on your neck and lumbar spine, particularly when done improperly.

However, the plank has been shown to activate the core muscles with lower compressive forces, which can reduce the risk of injury.

May reduce lower back pain

A strong core has been shown to reduce lower back pain and the risk of back injury.

Your abdominal muscles provide structural support for your lumbar spine (lower back) and aid in pelvic function. Increasing lumbar spine stabilization can aid in the reduction and prevention of lower back pain.

That said, if you have chronic back pain, always seek the advice of a healthcare professional before starting a new exercise program.

Improved performance

Since your core is connected to both your upper and lower body, it plays a role in movement during athletic activity.

In terms of athletic performance, a strong core is associated with increased power output, maximum force, running performance, upper body rotation, and a lower risk of injury.

Though further research is required, core stability movements such as the plank prove to be the most successful at optimizing athletic efficiency when combined with a well-rounded fitness regimen.

SUMMARY

The plank is a great exercise for increasing core strength, reducing the risk of back injury, and improving athletic performance.

How to do a plank correctly

You’ll get the most out of the plank if you do it correctly. While there are many variations of the plank, the two most common are the forearm plank and the straight-arm plank.

Forearm plank

This is the most common variation of the plank, and it relies on your forearms to keep your body upright. It is considered the better of the two, but it will always test you.

  1. Begin by lying on your stomach (prone) with your elbows and forearms at your sides. Check if the elbows and shoulders are in line.
  2. Raise your body off the ground gradually by digging onto your forearms and heels. As you rise, contract your core muscles, maintain a balanced back and neck (no hunching or looking up), and keep your pelvis tucked inward (shift your pelvis forward to prevent your butt from lifting).
  3. Hold this position for as long as you can maintain proper form.

Straight-arm plank

The straight-arm plank is similar to the forearm plank, but it’s slightly more advanced and difficult.

  1. Start in a pushup stance, elbows and forearms at your sides, palms facing down.
  2. Lift your body off the ground by pressing your palms into the ground. Your body should be positioned as though you were doing a pushup. Check that your hands and shoulders are in line, that your legs are parallel, that your feet are hip-width apart, and that your heart is engaged.
  3. Maintain this place for as long as possible.

The capacity of an individual to carry a plank varies according to their skill and core power. Attempt to hold the spot for at least 10 seconds.

SUMMARY

The two main variations of the plank exercise include the forearm plank and the straight-arm plank. Maintaining proper form will help you reap the greatest benefits.

Common mistakes when doing plank exercises

Although the plank is an outstanding core exercise, there are some basic errors that can jeopardize the performance. Here are some of the most important things to stop while doing a plank:

  • Hunching your back. This decreases core commitment and makes the exercise less successful. Instead, engage your center and maintain a neutral back stance.
  • Lowering your hips. Lowering your hips causes your back to curve, putting more pressure on your lower back rather than your abdominals. Check that the hips, shoulders, legs, and feet are all coordinated.
  • Raising your butt. Lifting your buttocks moves your weight away from your abdominals and into your upper body. Engage your heart and tuck your pelvis in to avoid this.
  • Holding your breath. Holding your breath makes the exercise more intense and places additional pressure on your body. Concentrate on slow, steady breathing.
  • Pushing your stomach out. If you find it difficult to draw your belly button in or note symptoms of diastasis recti, such as abdominal doming, try a modified plank. Your back would be best supported if you draw your abdominals in.

Imagine pulling your belly button inward toward your spine to engage your heart. This aids in the activation of deep core muscles such as the transverse abdominis and the maintenance of a neutral spine position.

SUMMARY

When doing a plank, keep your heart focused, your neck neutral, and remember to relax. This will assist you in doing the plank properly and targeting the appropriate muscles.

Variations of the plank exercise

There are many variations of this exercise to try if you find the plank too difficult or want an extra challenge. However, only attempt more difficult planks after you have successfully and safely performed a forearm and straight-arm plank for at least 15 seconds without losing form.

1. Forearm plank with knees bent

This version of the plank is great for beginners.

  1. Begin by lying on your stomach (prone) with your elbows and forearms at your sides. Check if the elbows and shoulders are in line.
  2. By digging onto your forearms, slowly raise your torso and upper body off the ground. Keep your knees bent and near the ground in this edition.
  3. Maintain proper form in this position for as long as possible.

Though this version is easier than the traditional forearm plank, it still gives you an excellent core workout.

2. Side plank on forearm

The side plank is excellent for working your obliques, which are the sides of your abdominals.

  1. Begin by sitting on your right hip, legs bent, and hips, ankles, and feet piled. Straighten your left arm in the breeze (if this is too difficult, keep your arm to your side).
  2. Raise your torso and straighten your legs by pressing your right forearm into the pavement. Maintain a firm core when lifting your hips. Your body should be in a nearly straight line.
  3. Try to hold this position for 20 or more seconds before switching sides.

3. Plank with side taps

This move provides an added challenge to the traditional straight-arm plank by incorporating leg movement.

  • First, make sure the area around you is safe and clean of obstacles.
  • Step your right leg out wider than your hip and tap the floor when starting in a conventional plank pose.
  • Then, return the leg to the starting spot.
  • Reverse the process on the left knee.
  • Maintain correct form when you do 10–15 repetitions on each foot.

Take your time with this move to ensure proper form and target your muscles effectively. Be sure to keep your core tight the entire time.

4. Plank with reach under

This move adds an extra challenge to the traditional straight-arm plank.

  1. Begin with a conventional straight-arm plank.
  2. Pick your right arm off the ground and reach beneath to hit your left hip while keeping your heart close. Then, slowly lower your right arm to the deck.
  3. Next, place your left hand on your right shoulder.
  4. Continue alternating hands for 20–30 seconds.

Avoid rotating your shoulders or hips during this movement. The goal is to keep your body in a straight line.

SUMMARY

Many variations of the plank are suitable for beginners and advanced exercisers. Be sure to only perform advanced planks when you can safely perform a standard plank.

The Take Away

The plank is a classic exercise that strengthens your body from head to toe.

The plank, in particular, works to reinforce your core muscles, including your abdominals and lower back. A solid core has been related to decreased lower back pain, increased capacity to perform everyday activities, and improved athletic performance.

If you’re new to planks, be sure to start slowly and focus on proper form. This will help you target the correct muscles and reduce your risk of injury.

With many variations available, the plank is a great core workout for people of all exercise levels.