Exercise of the week: plank


The plank’s easy, right? Not so fast. Find out how to get perfect form in this core exercise, plus top tips for taking it up a notch


Okay, so we’ve all heard of the plank position. But the difficulty lies in holding the posture for seconds – or even minutes – at a time, while staying rock-steady and firm.


Just what is a plank?

It’s an exercise in which you get into a starting press-up position but rest all your weight on your forearms rather than on your hands. Just as in the press-up, your body stays horizontal to the ground with your legs out straight and toes tucked under.


And just like with the press-up, you can do with it zero equipment. So it’s easy to get your fill of plank action wherever you are.



Just why is the plank so useful in a fitness plan?

It’s a posture that activates all the muscles in your core at the same time, unlike sit-ups, which only work part of your abdominal muscles.


Planks offer a cardio workout, plus they’re a challenge: if you’re doing it right, it should feel as though every muscle in your body is contracting. That means holding it hurts. Quite a lot, actually.


Indeed, being able to hold a plank position is seen as a bit of a challenge – the current women’s world plank record stands at 4 hours 20 minutes, and the men’s at over 8 hours.



How to master a plank

Get into a modified press-up position, with your forearms resting on the floor, your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle and your hands curled into fists. Check that your elbows are underneath your shoulders, and pushed into your sides. Tuck your toes under. Make sure your body is in a straight line with your spine in a neutral position and your face looking down. Squeeze your core and glute muscles, keep your hips straight and hold. (And remember to breathe…)


Hold your plank pose for as long as you can while keeping this form. But if you like to time your planks, work up to holding your plank for 20-30 seconds. And eventually? A minute tops is great.


Also try the side plank: lie on one side with your feet together and resting on one forearm, bent at the elbow. Pull in your bottom and core muscles, and raise your hips off the ground, so you’re balancing on your feet and forearm with your body straight. Hold the position for as long as you can, and then switch sides.



How to make a plank easier

Start on all fours, and get yourself into a modified plank position with your knees on the ground. You can have your feet in the air or your toes tucked under. This position will offer your lower body more support.


To make the side plank easier, lie on your side but rest on your knees rather than on your feet.



Which muscles are worked in a plank?

A range of deep inner core muscles are worked in a plank, including the rectus abdominus, which gives you the six-pack, and the transverse abdominis, the ‘corseting’ muscles. But planks also strengthen your hips, back, bottom, thighs, shoulders and arms.



How to make your plank harder

Get yourself into your plank position as usual, but then raise one leg in the air, keeping the other foot on the floor. Hold the position, and then switch legs.


Another option to make your plank more challenging is mix it up with your arm movements. So rather than staying in the classic forearm plank pose, manoeuvre yourself from your forearms onto your hands – keeping your arms straight – and then back down onto your forearms. Try this up and down movement throughout your plank – it takes a lot more coordination and strength through your core.

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