young woman doing plank exercise


One of the best exercises: The plank

If you want an exercise that engages most of your muscles in one easy step, then you should plank.

The plank is a simple, effective bodyweight exercise that strengthens your core, as well as muscles in your upper and lower body. Core muscles, which include your back and abdomen, help you maintain posture and balance as you stand, sit and move throughout the day.

The benefits of a strong core are: 

  • Reduced back pain
  • Reduced injuries
  • Increased flexibility
  • Improved balance and posture
  • Improved mood
  • Improved ability to conduct activities of daily living
  • Improved ability to participate in sports and athletics

How to plank

As with starting any new exercise, check with your health care provider to be sure you are healthy enough to plank. While there are a number of variations to the plank, let’s start with the very basics. As you get better at planking, you can up the difficulty level to reap further benefits.

Basic plank

  • Lie on the ground as if you were going to do a push-up.
  • Squeeze your glutes and abdominal muscles as you push up until your weight is supported on your forearms and your knees, with your elbows below your shoulders.
  • Keep your neck and back in a straight line (like a plank of wood).
  • Keep your eyes looking down at the floor.
  • Hold the position, and remember to breathe.

As you become more comfortable with the plank, you should be able to increase the time you spend holding the position. Your goal is to hold it as long as possible without compromising the form or your breathing. Aim for two to three sets of one to two minutes with 30 to 60 seconds rest between sets.  

Once you've mastered this position, try these alternatives:  

Forearm, full leg: Straighten your legs so that you are supporting your weight on your forearms and toes. 

bent arm plank


Full plank: Push up with your hands until your arms are extended and your legs are straight (looks like the top of a push-up). 

full plank


Side plank: This version helps strengthen your obliques (side muscles). Lie on your left side and support your weight on your left forearm and the side of your left foot. Repeat on the other side. Add difficulty by supporting your weight on your hand instead of your forearm. You can also increase difficulty by raising your upper arm into the air, as well as your upper leg. 

bent leg side plank

bent arm side plank

straight arm side plank


Single-leg plank: Perform the full plank, but lift one leg in the air and hold. Repeat with the opposite leg. 

leg lift plank

Elevated plank: Perform the full plank with your feet raised on a bench or step. 

elevated plank

Things to avoid when planking

Remember, good form is the key to getting good results from planking. Avoid these common mistakes: 

  • Holding your breath
  • Placing your hands too close together which can stress your shoulders
  • Allowing your hips, head and shoulders to droop
  • Arching your back
  • Holding the plank after your form has collapsed


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