How Long Should I Hold a Plank For Best Results?
Extreme planking—is it for you? Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. If you’re working on those abs and you’re using planks to do it, you’re likely wondering just how long should I hold a plank? While it might seem like longer is always better, the answer might surprise you!
What is a Plank?
You’ve probably seen the word ”plank” everywhere, and chances are good that you’ve seen people doing planks all over the place. Maybe you’ve wondered what they’re doing and why. It turns out that the plank abdominal exercise is a great way to work on strengthening your core muscles and even improve your fitness overall.
Planks are what’s known as an isometric exercise: where you hold a position against a force or gravity. It takes many muscles in your core as well as strong shoulders, back, and glutes to maintain this position. A plank is especially effective at working all the little muscle groups that act as a corset around your middle.
How to Do a Plank?
How do you do a plank? Start by kneeling on the ground with your hands, palms down, on the ground, lined up under your shoulders. Kick your legs back behind you until they’re straight and you’re balanced up on your toes. Next, lower your upper body down onto your forearms. Keep your body in a straight line (no butts in the air). Tighten your core and hold this pose. You are now doing a plank.
How Does a Plank Work to Strengthen Your Core?
If you want to work on your core, you might be tempted to focus on exercises like sit-ups and crunches. But, it might be better if you avoid those altogether and go straight for the plank exercises.
While sit-ups and crunches mostly focus on abdominal muscles in the front of your body as well as the hip flexors, a plank works to strengthen your core overall. A plank, sometimes called a “prone bridge,” is thought to be a better mechanism to strengthen not only the core but also the entire anterior chain (back, glutes, hamstrings). A proper plank hold also relies heavily on the obliques and stabilizing muscles in your core. In addition, planks are a good way to train your rectus abdominis, the six-pack muscles, too. (And everyone wants those to be prominent, right?) This, in conjunction with all the other muscles engaged in the plank hold, can help athletes improve performance and power moves as well as assist with everyday functionality and stability.
So, How Long Should I Hold a Plank?
There’s no doubt that holding a plank is hard! You might think it’s easy at first glance until those first five seconds pass. Then, you’ll soon understand the challenge. But, how long should you really hold a plank? There are varying schools of thought when it comes to how long you should hold a plank. As usual, the answer can be a resounding, “It depends!” And it turns out how long you should hold a plank may depend on your goals.
For instance, is your goal to set a world record for plank holding? That’s great! What you need to do to get there is to set up progressive plank training. Several times a week, practice planking and aim to hold for a little longer than you did the time before. Eventually, you can work your way up to some crazy long plank holds like some of the world-record holders who boast four- and even five-hour plank holds.
On the other hand, maybe your goal is just to strengthen your body, specifically your core. If this is the case, how long should you hold a plank? According to long-time strength coach Dan John, holding a plank longer than a two-minute interval is pretty useless. And while he says that you “should” be able to hold a plank for two minutes if you’re relatively fit, not obese, and in good health, it’s not beneficial to go any longer than that. In fact, even the two-minute marker may not be necessary.
Stuart McGill, Ph.D., a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, recently published an article in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research saying that holding a plank for long intervals is not only unnecessary, but it could be borderline harmful. Instead, he postulates that doing shorter planks more times a day is a much better way to improve your core strength and stability.
What’s the better way? McGill says instead of the marathon plank-holding sessions, do repeated 10-second holds. This is especially true if you suffer from any type of back pain. Holding excessively long plank positions can exacerbate that back pain and, believe it or not, even cause injury.
So, while you might be in a hurry to show off that chiseled midsection and you think longer plank holds are the key, don’t do it! Stick with many short bursts of effort, consistently over time, and watch your strength soar.
And don’t forget…
At the end of the day, whether you hold a plank for 1 minute or 30 minutes, that beautifully strong core you’ve worked so hard to achieve will not be revealed until you manage your diet and caloric intake properly.
So, to be effective, planks needn’t be longer than ten seconds, provided you do multiple sets. Unless, of course, you’re into setting records, then plank away!