There's a reason planks are in nearly every ab workout (and why there always seems to be a plank challenge going on). Effective and simple to understand, this isometric exercise (meaning static, no movement) is a major multitasker, working your entire body while increasing your metabolism.
"Planks focus primarily on your core, but also the stabilizing muscles in your upper body, like your shoulders," Judine Saint Gerard, a certified personal trainer and fitness coach based in New York City, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "But, believe it or not, if you are performing the plank properly, your quads, pelvic floor and glutes will also be engaged."
A solid core, tighter glutes, powerful quads: Practicing planks daily sounds like an ideal full-body exercise routine. But there are pros and cons of planking it out every. single. day. Here's what to expect.
If building a sculpted middle is your goal, planks are the most important ingredient in your ab routine. They activate the core muscles better than other ab exercises that solely target the core, according to an older May 2011 study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.
This isometric exercise also strengthens the transverse abdominis — the deepest layer of abdominal muscles that are responsible for spinal stability — and the obliques, the ab muscles that help with rotation.
And because the plank recruits your entire core, it targets your lower back and hips, too. With daily planking, you'll build the core strength to support your spine and help prevent back pain and tight hip flexors. You'll also experience better balance because an engaged core helps you stand taller and maintain good posture.
Your overall fitness will also get a boost by improving your body awareness. Here's the deal: Your body operates on a kinetic chain, which means the way one joint moves will affect how others do, too. Because your core is interconnected with multiple joints in the upper and lower body, you'll build the awareness to use the right muscles to make movements smoother.
"With a stronger core, you can be more robust in other areas of your fitness routine," Fletcher says. "This includes the increased ability to lift heavier weights and better sports performance."
You get the point that planks are pretty damn good for your core, but if you have other goals of shedding belly fat, planking every day might not be the most effective routine.
Trying out compound exercises, like shoulder presses and deadlifts, give you the benefit of working your core and building lean muscle, which helps increase your metabolic rate.
Your Lower Body
As a full-body exercise, the plank involves tightening your quads and glutes and tucking your pelvis in to engage your core. This allows you to evenly distribute your weight throughout your body, instead of shifting it all through your shoulders, which can cause strain.
The tighter you squeeze your lower body, the "easier" the plank becomes. This is because "realistically, the more control you can exert, the longer you can maintain proper positions," says Andia Winslow, master certified fitness professional, pro athlete and founder of The Fit Cycle.
By engaging your glutes during a plank, you hit the trio of muscles in your rear: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. That pelvic tuck is also a cue to bring your butt to the toning party because "in order to tuck your pelvis under, you have to clutch and squeeze your butt," Saint Gerard says.
The stronger your glutes are, the less pressure you'll put on your lower back, and the more stable you'll feel during other activities, such as cycling. Your hips will also generally function better with a more solid backside because weak glutes force you to compensate with your hips. Strong glutes are also the recipe for better overall power, speed and athletic performance.
Many people often forget to fire up their quads during a plank, but doing so prevents your lower body from sinking. Your quads are also a source of strength, so engaging them in isometric movements like planks enhances your stability, especially in the knees.
Weak quads not only wreak havoc on your overall knee function, but a June 2011 study in Osteoarthritis Cartilage shows that it can also contribute to loss of cartilage in the knee joint, which in turn could lead to osteoarthritis. So don't neglect your quads when you plank — period.
That said, planking every day can only get your glutes and quads so far. You'll get more bang for your buck from lower body-focused exercises, like squats and lunges, so make sure to vary your workouts.
Keeping your pelvis tucked while planking forces you to squeeze your glutes, so you don't put all of the strain on your shoulders.
Your Total-Body Strength
While the plank is a core-focused exercise, it can boost your overall strength for everyday movements.
That's because you use your core to do just about everything, whether you're walking down the street or bending over to pick up a package. Engaging your core will help you lift heavy things overhead, and make pulling and pushing doors open easier.
Consider the plank a foundational move, one that builds your strength from the ground up. Once your plank is solid, you can effectively build upon it and challenge yourself with more difficult exercises. In fact, many of the moves you do on the regular not only use the foundational strength gained from planking, but they are also plank variations in disguise.
For example, push-ups, renegade rows, mountain climbers and even kettlebell swings all involve planking. If you're doing planks daily, it's a good idea to mix things up to test your strength. What's great about these plank variations is they're dynamic, so they have the added cardio benefit of spiking your heart rate.
Planks engage your entire body, which directly correlates to a greater work capacity. "Anytime prime movers (legs and glutes) are involved, there will be a greater caloric burn," Winslow says. "Which is why, in a plank, folks have to remember to engage their legs, squeezing the thighs and glutes along with holding the core and trunk firm."
But doing planks every day doesn't mean you're firing up your metabolism to its full potential. Focus on dynamic — not isometric — exercises like jump lunges, mountain climbers and burpees to spike your heart rate and burn more calories.
Because planks strengthen your entire body, you are putting yourself in a better position to stave off injury and improve stability and mobility with age.
For example, planks help with your posture by focusing on stacking your spine in proper alignment. This in turn helps you avoid added pressure on muscles and joints, including the spine, shoulders, hips and knees. Moving with good posture also helps prevent slips and falls.
Planks can be particularly helpful for runners in this department. A January 2018 study in the Journal of Biomechanics suggests that runners who have weak core muscles may put excess stress on their lower backs due to other muscles compensating. Planks focus on stabilizing this area to mitigate stress, ultimately making you a better, more efficient runner.
Just be wary that doing planks every day, especially weighted and dynamic ones, can also irritate existing injuries and lead to new ones due to overuse. So if you're feeling some strain in your shoulders and wrists, it might be a sign that you're overdoing it, Fletcher says. If you feel any discomfort in these areas, take a break from planks.
How to Perfect Your Plank
To ensure you're getting the most out of your planks and are moving safely, it's important to practice proper form. "Most people, mechanically, their plank form is just not good," Saint Gerard says, noting that the lumbar (lower) spine is often at risk because of sagging hips.
Holding a plank for longer than you can handle can also be ineffective. While you might hear about marathon planking (even world records), there is actually no need to hold a plank for multiple minutes at a time.
"Duration should be directly proportionate to form control," Winslow says. "The better the form and awareness of body position, the longer the holds I'd prescribe." For example, do 10-second planks, rest and repeat 10 times, eventually working up to 3 sets of 1-minute planks.
First, perfect your form. Start by holding a plank for 10 seconds and slowly work your way to a full minute by adding 10-second increments.
How to Do a High Plank
- Start on all fours with your shoulders stacked directly over your wrists and your hips directly over your knees.
- Keeping your neck in line with your spine, step your feet back, one at a time, forming a straight line from the top of your head to your heels. Keep your feet hip-width apart.
- Tuck your pelvis in to engage your core and squeeze your quads and glutes. Press your heels back slightly to evenly distribute your weight from head to toes. Pull your shoulders back away from your ears and corkscrew your hands into the floor by gripping with your fingers.
- If you're not able to hold a high plank on your hands, modify the exercise by coming to your forearms.
- The closer your feet are together in a plank, the greater the challenge.
- Avoid pressing your butt into the air (this is not Downward-Facing Dog) or sinking your hips below your shoulders. “You want to be flat as a table or board,” Saint Gerard says. "Someone should be able to drink soup off of your back without worrying about it toppling over and you getting burned.”
How to Take Your Planks Up a Notch
Tim Brown, a certified personal trainer and owner of the Fitness Factory Studio of Jackson, says that doing a basic plank every day is not really helpful over time. While exercise newbies should stick to basic planks to help build consistency, it's good to change things up after 30 days or so, especially if you nailed down perfect form.
"You always have to step it up if you want to get stronger. You need variety to challenge your body," he says. When your body adapts, it's like walking to the refrigerator every day. Your body gets used to it, and it ceases to change.
"Once you get through that initial breaking down and start building back up in the first week or week and a half, that's it," Brown says. "The more you are able to shock your body, the more benefits you will get."
Saint Gerard suggests planking on one hand or lifting one leg off the ground as an added challenge. Just remember to keep basic form cues in mind, like squaring your hips to avoid rotation and recruiting your quads and glutes to keep your body in a straight line.
You might consider adding dynamic planks (think mountain climbers and plank jacks) to your routine, but it's important to nail down the classic plank first. Winslow says that most folks aren't typically adept at the isometric plank, so she doesn't recommend advancing to more challenging versions.
"Think alignment before increasing difficulty," she says. "Are shoulders stacked over elbows? Are your head, neck and back flat? Are feet parallel? Are you breathing? Are you, in fact, holding the muscles at the same length? Do you have control in this static position?"
If you answered "no" to any of these questions, you should probably stick with the basic plank. But if you answered "yes" and feel ready to take things up a notch, Winslow recommends side and supine (on your back) planks, such as a hollow hold.
3 Core Workouts for Stronger Abs
With so many muscle-boosting benefits, you may be tempted to plank it out day after day. But is it wise? Fletcher says it's generally safe to perform the same exercise or movement pattern every day.
However, she warns that your form must be impeccable to do it daily. Here's why: Improper form can lead to injuries. Not to mention you're essentially training your body to move in a weakened position, which affects your movement in other exercises.
Winslow also notes that while planking daily is fine, rest and recovery are key to performance, so taking a day or two off is not just OK but advised.
Whenever you do repetitive exercise without proper recovery, you risk injury from overuse of muscles and joints. Plus, you don't give your muscles enough time to repair and become stronger. It's better to be safe than sorry and take a break from doing planks every other day.
Your fitness goals dictate how often you should be doing a particular exercise. That's why it's best to work with a certified personal trainer to come up with an effective workout plan that helps you move safely. Ultimately, just because you can plank every day, it doesn't mean that you should.
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: "Effect of Long-term Isometric Training on Core/Torso Stiffness"
- Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: "Core Exercises That Incorporate Distal Trunk Muscles Maximize Primary Trunk Muscle Activation"
- Journal of Biomechanics: "Biomechanical Consequences of Running With Deep Core Muscle Weakness"
- Osteoarthritis Cartilage: "Quadriceps Weakness Predicts Risk for Knee Joint Space Narrowing in Women in The MOST Cohort"
- Judine Saint Gerard, CPT
- Heather Fletcher, MS
- Tim Brown, CPT
- Andia Winslow, CPT