The plank on the elbows is usually the go-to version of a long list of plank variations. It is often thrown in at the end of weights and cardio workouts, superset with other ab exercises and commonly used to test a person’s generic core strength.
You won’t get six-pack washboard abs by only performing a plank but you will have a strong core as a base to work from and technique comes before intensity so spend time getting it right before you progress. Becoming fatigued will lead to a deterioration in technique and consequently a decrease in the effectiveness of the plank so holding for as long as you can is not always the way to go.
Locking in a strong plank from the start is key so the best way to get into the plank is slightly unconventional. Lift your hips above shoulder height and then lower your hips whilst squeezing your glutes and tucking your hips under. If at any point your glutes relax your hips will lower and your lower back will arch taking all the load.
Once your hips are tucked under at shoulder height, suck your belly button in and think about making your stomach as thin as you can. This will help engage your abs but also the all-important transverse abdominis (TVA) which acts as your body’s built-in corset and will help keep everything tucked in tight.
Try to relax your shoulders, you should feel the tension in your torso and maybe your glutes but not so much in your shoulders. Keeping your elbows under your shoulders will help so try not to push your bodyweight backwards, doing this will just fatigue your shoulders.
Breathe! Simple but often forgotten. Taking deep breaths will impact your plank positively in several ways both physically and mentally. Breathing deeply will help keep oxygen pumping to the muscles under stress and on the breath out it gives you an opportunity to focus on the engagement of the TVA by sucking in your abs. It will also take away the focus of that muscle burning sensation that is a bit like marmite…some of you love it and some of you hate it.
Remember you can always do a plank with your knees on the floor should you need to lower the intensity.
How long should a beginner hold a plank?
This is entirely dependent on your ability and honestly, there is no right or wrong answer. If you feel the strain in your lower back then you’ve gone too long, cut your time down and focus on the steps above. As a beginner, I would aim for 3 x 30 second holds and if you are more advanced try 45-60 seconds, any longer than this I would suggest super setting (2 exercises without rest) with another ab exercise to offer variety in movement and intensity.
How effective is planking?
If you want to get better at planking then planking is great, if you want six-pack abs, planking on its own will leave you disappointed. Performing plank variations are a great way to build torso strength and is a great addition to any ab routine but be sure to include more specific exercises for the Rectus Abdominis (6 pack abs) if this is your goal.
Can you lose weight with planks?
The short answer, on their own no. If you include plank variations as part of a great exercise routine and/or with controlled calories and good nutritional intake then yes absolutely!
Can you do planks every day?
If you are new to core training, specifically planks, in the beginning, you may find you are sore the next day so I would suggest having a day or two in between. As you progress you may find you can do them more frequently but I would suggest alternating between plank variations to give yourself some variety.
Reps: 30 – 45-second hold
1. With your left elbow under your shoulder and your feet staggered on the floor, lift your hips until they are in line with your shoulders
2. Push your hips forward slightly and brace your abs by sucking in your stomach
Side Plank with Hip Pulse
Reps: 10 – 15 each side
1. Follow the steps for a side plank and when you have the start position lower your hips slightly below your centre line and then raise them just above your centreline
2. A big range of movement will make this less effective, a small drop will build great intensity in your obliques
Side Plank with Rotation
Reps: 10 – 15 each side
1. Follow the steps for setting up your side plank with your non-supporting arm extend above your shoulder
2. Keeping your feet and hips fixed rotate your shoulders towards the floor and reach your arm under your back without it touching the floor
3. Don’t let your hips drop and move with control not speed
Reps: 30 – 45-second hold
1. Initiate this exercise the same way you would for a traditional Plank
2. When you have the plank locked in, lift up to your hands which should be just above head height
3. Walk your hands further above your head or closer to your shoulder to alter intensity accordingly
Reps: 8 – 10 per leading arm (16 – 20 total reps)
1. Start in a full plank position with feet roughly hip-width apart
2. Drop your right elbow to the floor followed by your left.
3. Suck in your belly button and squeeze your abs to minimize the twisting of the hips (they should stay pointing down throughout this movement)
4. Return to your hands starting with your right then your left hand
5. Repeat this movement but alternate the arm you move first after each repetition
Reps: 8 – 10 per arm
1. After finding a strong plank hold, widen your feet slightly to shoulder width
2. Reach one arm forward whilst keeping your hips pointing to the floor
3. Alternate arms until you reach your rep limit, if you easily surpass 10 reps each arm try lengthening your plank base
Reps: 15 – 20
1.Start with elbows under shoulders and legs extended with feet hip-width apart
2. Slide your hands forward until your elbows are in line with your ears (this is your starting position)
3. Keeping your abs engaged drag your body forward by pulling through your elbows, then shift your bodyweight back until elbows return to ear level
Plank with Knee to Elbow
Reps: 8 – 10 each leg
1. From your basic plank (either on your elbows or hands) bring your right knee out towards your right elbow
2. You should aim to bring your knee round to the side rather than under your body, this will bring in some extra focus for your obliques
3. Maintain tension in your abs throughout the movement
Take Home Message
The Plank can be a great exercise, but it can also be detrimental to lower back health so make sure the technique comes before intensity, time and progression. There are countless variations but not all are beneficial or even necessary so be smart with your plank choices and if it doesn’t feel right, you should stop, address your technique and start again.