The standard plank is simple to do. Position yourself in a push-up form, but with elbows bent and forearms on the floor.
Your body should be in a straight line. This is the forearm plank, but there is a wide range of plank variations available, as well.
Table of Contents
- What You Need
- The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide
- Common Mistakes to Avoid While Planking
- Plank Away
Learning how to plank properly takes persistence, but the result is worth it. Your core will say “thank you” after following a few simple steps to make it happen. This simple exercise is empowering and effective, so what are you waiting for?
Let us guide you through a variety of plank variations so you have options to choose from when you’re looking to break that sweat. Are you a beginner? Don’t worry. There’s something for every fitness level.
What You Need
One of the best things about planking is that it doesn’t require much:
- Comfortable cross-trainers with some grip.
- A yoga mat or other non-slip surface.
- Dry towel.
A good pair of lightweight sneakers or cross-trainers will help you stabilize your legs and push through the feet to hold you in place during the exercise. Make sure they have some traction/grip to ensure safety. We recommend avoiding heavy shoes as they can weigh you down.
You also want to plank on a non-slip surface, such as a yoga mat or on the rubberized flooring you see at the gym. Tile or marble floors can be recipes for disaster when you’re aiming for stability.
Don’t be alarmed if you find yourself sweating after a few rounds. A dry towel will come in handy and acts as a safety measure against sliding around. Otherwise, you might feel yourself losing traction after some time.
The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide
Planks come in different shapes and sizes. Start basic and work up from there. Let’s break it down:
1. Standard Plank
It’s the most common plank form and what you’re probably familiar with already.
Step 1: Get in Position
Place hands palms-down directly under your shoulders, around shoulder-width apart. It’s similar to a push-up position and some also refer to it as a straight-arm plank.
Ground your toes into the floor and stabilize your body, feet around hip’s width apart. You should be squeezing your glutes. Engage your legs and core, as well. Be wary of locking or hyperextending your knees.
Step 2: Align Your Body
Keep your eyes focused on the floor about a foot in front of where you plant your hands. Align your head and neck with your spine. There should be one straight line from the heels up through the crown of the head.
Step 3: Hold the Position
Hold the position for as long as you can last. You may want to start with 30-second intervals and build up from there. When you feel yourself getting weak, rest. Avoid sacrificing correct alignment and muscular engagement for a longer hold.
2. Knee or Kneeling Plank
The knee, or kneeling, plank style is a good starting place for beginners. It provides you the chance to focus on form, without requiring the same amount of strength as a standard plank. For those with back discomfort or pain, this one is especially useful.
Once you’ve established a solid foundation in the kneeling plank, you can amp up the challenge by moving on to the other variations.
Step 1: Position Yourself
Start by kneeling on the floor with your elbows right below your shoulders, forearms stretched in front with hands pressing down. Bring your legs together and raise your feet in the air behind you. Balance well on the knees and forearms.
Step 2: Check Your Alignment
Engage your shoulders, glutes and core, keeping the knees steady and in place. There should be a straight line from your glutes through to the crown of the head. Look around a foot in front of you on the floor.
Step 3: Hold for 30 Seconds
Release by pushing your hips over your heels and sitting up.
3. Forearm Plank
Some find this variation to be easier than a standard plank as it takes some pressure off your wrists. These instructions are similar to the latter, though.
The main difference is that you’ll place your forearms in a resting position, just like the arm positioning in kneeling plank.
Step 1: Set Up
Place your forearms on the floor firmly. Some prefer to press the hands with palm-facing down, directly out in front. Alternatively, you can clasp the fingers together in the middle.
Your arms will be at a distance around shoulder-width apart, with your elbows aligned directly below your shoulders.
Much like the standard plank, your lower-half will be engaged from the glutes down through the feet. Activate your toes by pressing into the ground and keep that core working.
Step 2: Follow Alignment of Standard Plank
Double-check that everything is in working order before you hold the position.
Step 3: Hold and Gauge
Use a timer or stopwatch, starting with short intervals of about 20 to 30 seconds, working up to a minute or two when your endurance increases.
Gauge your alignment through the process and make sure your muscles aren’t switching off. When you feel tired, rest and repeat.
4. Reverse Plank
This plank is aimed at an intermediate level and often overlooked, but it’s a great exercise worth trying for a stronger core. The reverse plank also targets the hamstrings, gluteus, abdominals, and the lower area of the back.
The most important thing to remember is to keep straight and keep your head and neck in-line with your body. Don’t hyperextend, and don’t let your body sag.
Step 1: Position Your Body
Sit on the floor and extend your legs out in front of you. Place your palms and spread your fingers wide on the floor behind you and outside of your hips,
Lift your hips and torso upwards, while pressing into your palms. Look at the ceiling all the time. Keep your arms and legs straight and point your toes outwards.
Step 2: Hold It and Squeeze
Keeping your body straight and stable, squeeze your core. It should feel like you are pulling your belly button backward into your spine.
Step 3: Know Your Limits
If your hips start to sag, don’t continue. Instead, lower yourself slowly back to the ground.
Practice makes perfect, but try to hold the position for 30 seconds once you perfect your hold.
5. Side Plank
This plank variation takes things up a notch and calls on the oblique muscles, which are located at the sides of your core. You’ll notice the burn a lot quicker here, not to mention it requires more balance and strength overall.
We recommend the side plank for those that have exercised previously and want to challenge themselves a bit more.
Step 1: Get in Position
Lie on one side of your body with one leg on top of the other in a straight line. Make sure your heels are touching. Rest on the forearm of the side of your body that’s on the floor. Keep your elbows directly under your shoulders.
Once you’re in position, you’re going to lift your hips off the floor, straightening your arm with palm grounding down below you. You’ll be balancing on the outer edge of the bottom foot, pushing it downwards.
Step 2: Are You Aligned?
It gets a bit trickier here, but practice makes perfect. You’ll want a straight line extending from the toes up through the armpit of the upper arm. Arms are stacked in one line from the floor up through the fingertips of the top hand.
You also have the option of placing the upper arm down along the side of your body, as demonstrated in the video below.
Engage the neck and upper back by looking upwards. Keep pressing away from the floor for the entirety of the plank. Avoid sagging hips, as it’s a sign that the glutes aren’t working.
Step 3: Hold Yourself
Hold for as long as you can. You’ll want to start with short intervals, such as 15 seconds.
6. Chaturanga Plank
The chaturanga plank is often referred to as the low plank. This move targets the shoulders and the core of the body and is perfect for those of you looking to test yourselves.
It is, however, one of the most challenging plank positions to hold. But, the trickiest exercises often give us the most rewarding results.
Step 1: Quick Positioning
Start in a plank position with your arms and legs straight. Push your heels back and your shoulders over your wrists.
To shift forward, balance on your tip-toes and move your shoulders in front of your wrists. Roll your shoulders back, and blossom your chest through the upper arms.
Bend your elbows, pulling them into your body, and face your forearms vertically. This move is the chaturanga position. Your body should be aligned, and you should be lifted only a few inches from the floor.
Step 2: Hold It
Hold that position for as long as you can. Be sure not to collapse your chest so that it falls lower towards the floor.
Step 3: Safe Finish
Don’t simply drop to the floor, even though you may feel like doing that. Instead, lift yourself into the yoga upward-dog position and ease yourself up from the floor.
It’ll likely take a few attempts before you master this one, but you’ll feel the benefits of it on your body.
7. Single-Leg Plank
This is the most demanding plank variation, which is why we’ve left it for last. It’s another option for regular fitness enthusiasts or athletes.
Are you a beginner? Don’t worry, after enough standard planking, you’ll be comfortable to try it eventually, as well.
It might seem intimidating at first, as it requires confidence, stability and balance.
Step 1: Set Up
Follow the instructions for the positioning of the forearm plank variation above. Once you’re in position and your muscles are engaged, you’re going to add the final step that makes it the single-leg variation.
You’ll slowly lift one leg up behind you, while balancing on the foot of the leg still on the floor as you press through the toes.
Time yourself for an interval of 15 to 20 seconds, then carefully switch legs to repeat on the other side.
Step 2: Check Your Alignment
Follow the alignment cues for the forearm plank, but that’s not all. You might feel yourself falling off to one side since you’re balancing on one foot.
Ensure you stay aligned through the center of your body and keep your weight distributed evenly through the arms and shoulders.
Step 3: Hold Steady
Stay on each leg for the same amount of time and maintain your balance throughout the entire hold.
Common Mistakes to Avoid While Planking
Planking is fun and a great workout for all parts of the body. But, it’s vital that you perform the moves correctly to avoid injury.
Here are a few common mistakes that you should avoid while planking:
Butt in the Air
Keep that butt low, otherwise, you’ll cause unnecessary pain to your neck and shoulders.
It’s important to keep your back straight. Envisage yourself as a plank of wood: unbending.
Hips Too Low
If your hips sink, you’re putting great strain on your lower back, which is going to hurt.
Poor Neck Alignment
If your neck isn’t kept in a natural position, you are at risk of muscle cramps and spasms, which can be injurious as well as painful.
In planking, this is the equivalent of cheating. Your core muscles don’t work as hard like this, so unclasp those hands.
Was our tutorial straightforward and enticing? If you were curious about how to plank, we hope you found a great starting place. From one plank exercise to another, you have plenty of options to play around with, depending on your fitness level.
Don’t forget to wear a good pair of cross-trainers and execute your workout on a non-slip surface, such as a yoga mat.
Take things a step at a time and keep your alignment in mind. When I first started, I didn’t regard it much and I gained quite little as a result. You won’t regret spending a few extra seconds ensuring your muscles are engaged and working as they should.
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