Planks for beginners: Discover how to quickly do planks the right way. Plus, the three biggest mistakes beginners make.
When I was in middle school, I was first introduced to the plank exercise.
Before that point, I thought I had a strong core because I could crank out hundreds of sit-ups with ease. But I was wrong. When I first did a plank, my body was shaking like a scared Chihuahua after only a few seconds - and I fought to hold my body up. It was a humbling experience that motivated me to improve this weakness.
However, it wasn’t until years later that I truly appreciated what this simple exercise can do for the body. So if you’re just getting started with working out this is a great exercise to start with. But even if you’ve been hitting the gym for a while - planks can be a useful tool to build a stronger, healthier midsection.
Beginners Guide to Planks
Planks are a simple bodyweight exercise where you hold a static position. It’s similar to holding the top of a push-up (which we’ll get to in a moment). So why should you do planks?
Strengthens the Core When you do planks you are strengthening core muscles that run down your back … along the outside of your midsection … and others that attach to pelvis. When most people think of the core, they think of six-pack abdominal muscles. However, this is just one of many muscles that consist of the core. When you train all of these core muscles together, it helps stabilize and protect the spine. In fact, many low back issues arise when these core muscles are unable to stabilize the spine.
Stabilize the Spine Think about throwing a punch… kicking a soccer ball… picking up a box (with correct form) or hitting a golf ball. Each one of these motions involves the arms or legs moving while your midsection stays stable. How hard you blast a soccer ball down the field is dependent on how well your core transfers force, not produces force. That’s how our core is supposed to function in everyday activities as well. It holds us up while we are walking. It helps us maintain proper posture. Planks are simply a way to train the core for what is designed to do: stabilize the spine.
Planks for Beginners: How to Do Planks Correctly
Correct Form: Lay on your stomach with your forearms underneath you. Then raise your hips and straighten your legs so your body is in a straight line. Hold this position.
Mistake #1: Head up Make sure not to have the head looking up during the plank. This will tighten muscles in the upper back that aren’t supposed to help. Maintain a neutral head position.
Mistake #2: Head down On the flip side, don’t let your head sag either. This is not a healthy neck position and it reinforces the forward head posture which most people struggle with.
Mistake #3: Hips too high Some people tend to raise their hips too high. This will decrease the effectiveness of the exercise.
How to Make Planks Easier
For some people it can be difficult to hold a plank for very long. If that’s the case here are a few options for you to start with.
1. Push-up Position: In this variation, instead of going onto your forearms you would go on your hands like the top of a push-up. This is typically easier because your arms are holding up less of your bodyweight.
2. Stairs: If the push-up position is still too challenging then you can put your hands on the stairs. You can start at a higher step and then as you build up your strength you can go to the step below… and keep going down until you can do them on the ground.
How Long Should You Hold Planks For?
Over the years, many spine specialists have suggested holding a plank for 60-90s. I recommend people be able to hold a 60s plank minimum before moving onto more advanced core exercises or plank variations. Here are a few ways to work up to 60s.
Climb to 60: Simply hold a plank for as long as you can. And then the next time you do them you try to beat your previous record. For instance, if the first time you hold it for 20 seconds then the next time you aim for 25 seconds. Keep bumping it up until you can hold it for the full minute.
10-Second Burst: This time hold a plank for 10 seconds, rest for a moment, and then hold another 10-second plank. Do this six times. The advantage to these short bursts is it keeps your form good and the right muscles working.
10 seconds might not sound very impressive but according to Stuart McGill, one of the leading lower back specialists on the planet, most people can get by with this, “Basically holding repeated holds of 10 seconds is best for the average person.” There are a lot of advanced core exercises floating around out there, but sometimes we need to start small and master the fundamentals. And plank is a crucial fundamental for core strength.
Start small if needed but start doing this exercise.
P.S. Once you have planks mastered, if you want to take your core strength to the next level there are 7 powerful ways to do so (without any equipment). Recently, I put together a free report describing each variation called "Supercharge Your Planks." Grab a copy below
0004 | Supercharge Your Planks Discover 7 ways to take your core strength to the next level. Plus, the research behind each one. 11 pages, 2,263KB | Free Download