The plank. It looks so simple, doesn’t it? You don’t have to push, crunch or squat, yet it engages the core in a very effective way. Here is the question, though: how long must you hold a plank (and how much of a burn must you feel!) to get the results you want? Let’s look at the right way to do planks, and how long you should be able to hold in position.
The plank is an example of an isometric exercise, which means it involves using the muscles to hold a static position. The effort you put forth to maintain a plank comes from working against gravity to hold yourself steady. What makes planks so effective is they strengthen your core muscles, helping to strengthen and stabilize the whole body. Being a core exercise doesn’t mean planks are all about your abs, though, because they use several different muscles, including your glutes, spinal erectors, lats, pecs, shoulder muscles and spine stabilizers. They’re an effective full-body movement and can be done in several variations, including the front plank, which is what most people think of when they hear the word plank, the forearm plank, the side plank and the reverse plank.
To maximize the effectiveness of planks and protect yourself from injury, you’ll need to do this exercise correctly, using the proper form.
Keep your body in a straight line. If your hips are raised too high or dropped too low, the engagement of your core will be reduced. Avoid this by imagining that you’re pulling your belly button in towards your spine to keep your back flat and your body straight from head to toe.
Keep your shoulders over your elbows. This may feel too hard, and if it does, adjust your plank by either dropping to your knees or moving into a high plank.
Maintain a neutral spine. Don’t tilt your head to look up or forward, but keep your spine correctly aligned by looking at the floor between your hands.
Try to resemble a plank of wood. This is where the workout gets its name, after all, and if you don’t look like a plank of wood, you’re not doing it correctly. You should be in a straight line from the crown of your head to your heels.
Keep your muscles engaged. The glutes, pecs and lats should all be engaged, or you will miss the opportunity to maximize the benefits of planking.
Stop when your abs are fatigued. If your form isn’t correct, as when your hips are sagging or your behind is too high, it could be due to your abs being too fatigued for you to continue.
So, how long should you be able to hold a plank without fatigue? There is no standard answer to this, as the length of your plank will depend on your strength and fitness level. Your goal should be to hold it long enough to challenge yourself while maintaining good form. However, once you can hold your plank for more than a minute or two, you’re no longer building strength, just endurance. If you are just starting, begin with short intervals and work your way up to longer holds. A beginner might start by planking for 10 seconds and then dropping to the floor before repeating, then build up by 10-second intervals. The goal of a one-minute plank is admirable.
If you’re struggling with planks, you can modify them. Performing your plank on your knees is preferable to quitting entirely. Don’t worry – planking gets easier the more you do them. On the other hand, if you don’t find them very difficult, try a more challenging variety, like a side plank. Try to schedule in planks three or four times a week for best results, in short sessions, rather than one long session once a week. Planks can be an effective part of a complete workout routine.
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