Planks are one of the most well-known core-strengthening exercises, but mastering them and being able to hold one for a long time takes a lot of practice.
If you want to get better at planks, seven tips that can help are:
- Keep your timed sets low and build up gradually
- Do them more often
- Incorporate other plank variations
- Train your abs in other ways
- Do them earlier in your routine
- Strengthen your other muscle groups
- Keep yourself distracted
You don’t have to get frustrated and avoid planks if you can’t hold one for as long as you’d like. Sometimes, making a simple adjustment to your form or changing how you program them can make them easier to execute.
In this article, I’ll delve into these tips in more detail and explain how they can help you get better at planks. I’ll also discuss why planks are so hard, how to do a plank correctly, and what mistakes you should avoid when doing planks.
Why Are Planks So Hard?
Planks are hard because many muscles in the body have to work together to hold you in the proper position. Many people also do them incorrectly, increasing the difficulty of the exercise.
Even though planks primarily target the core (the abdominal and lower back muscles), the muscles in the shoulders, upper back, glutes, and legs all act as stabilizers to help keep you in position. This means planks require strength from the core and most of the large muscle groups in the body.
But the core and muscle groups like the glutes are weak spots for many people, especially those who have sedentary jobs and spend most of their days sitting at a desk. Even people who work out frequently but don’t do planks often or have muscular imbalances can have difficulty doing them.
As such, planks are a common exercise for people to struggle with, whether they’re not used to working out at all or have more experience.
Related Article: 17 Resistance Band Ab Exercises for a Strong Core
How To Do a Plank Correctly
As I mentioned earlier, doing planks incorrectly can make the exercise more challenging. Before trying anything else to improve them, you should ensure you’re doing them correctly.
There are several ways to do planks, but for this article, I’m going to provide instructions for doing them on your forearms.
Step One: Kneel Down and Place Your Forearms on the Floor
Kneel on the floor and bend over to put your forearms on the floor. Make sure your elbows are directly underneath your shoulders.
Step Two: Stick Your Legs Straight Out Behind You
One at a time, straighten your legs behind you and come up onto your toes.
Step Three: Ensure Your Body Stays in a Straight Line
Avoid letting your hips sag to the floor or shoot up towards the ceiling. You should also ensure your head remains in line with the rest of your body.
Step Four: Hold the Plank for As Long As Your Program Calls For
Stay in the plank position for as long as your program calls for or as long as possible. A good starting point is 30-45 seconds, and you can work up from there.
7 Tips to Help You Get Better at Planks
1. Keep Your Timed Sets Low and Build Up Gradually
If you’re new to planks or don’t do them very often, you can start with smaller timed sets and work your way up over time. For example, you could start with 3 sets of 30-second planks three times a week for one or two weeks, then aim for 35 seconds, and so on.
If you can’t hold a plank for the prescribed time without pausing, hold it for however long you can, rest for the same amount of time, then get yourself into a plank again. Repeat until you’ve accumulated a plank for the entire prescribed time.
So if your program calls for you to plank for 60 seconds and you can only make it to 20, rest for 20 seconds, then get yourself back into a plank again. Keep repeating this pattern until you’ve accumulated a 60-second plank.
- Related Article: Ab Day At The Gym: How To Do It Properly + Sample Program
2. Do Them More Often
To get better at something, you have to do it more often. That includes an exercise as simple as planks. You can’t do them once every couple of months and expect them to get any easier.
To improve your ability to hold a plank for longer, I recommend doing 3-4 sets of planks 2-3 days per week following the progression guidelines I mentioned above.
- Related Article: Should You Do Abs Every Day for Bodybuilding?
3. Incorporate Other Plank Variations
If you start doing planks more often, you may become bored with your routine. And doing one version of planks doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll become proficient at other variations.
Incorporating other variations will not only offer some variety and train your core and other muscle groups in different ways. It will also make regular planks easier so you can hold them for longer and longer periods.
You can do planks on your hands instead of your forearms (also called straight-arm planks or high planks) or side planks. If you want to make them more dynamic, you can do plank jacks or spiderman plank crunches. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, you can even try doing planks with your feet or elbows on a stability ball.
4. Train Your Abs in Other Ways
Even though you have to do planks more often to get better at them, strengthening your core with other exercises will also help.
Some of my favorite core exercises include:
Just like incorporating other plank variations into your routine, doing various core exercises will keep your workouts interesting and make your core muscles stronger overall.
If you’re looking for even more exercises to try to strengthen your core, check out the Fitbod app. You can choose the movements you want to do most often, and Fitbod will provide customized recommendations for incorporating them into your routine.
- Related Article: 3 Best Ab Workouts On Pull-Up Bar (Complete List Of Exercises)
5. Do Them Earlier in Your Routine
It’s not uncommon for core work to appear at the end of most strength training routines. This allows you to keep your core muscles fresh so they can stabilize your body during heavy lifts.
However, this also means that your core muscles are already pretty fatigued by the time you get to your core-specific exercises. As a result, you may not be able to hold a plank for as long or do as many sets of core exercises as you want to, which can delay your progress.
You can resolve this by moving your planks up earlier in your routine before your core muscles get too tired. You’ll be able to hold planks for longer or push yourself more with your other core exercises, enabling you to dedicate more time and energy to strengthening your core muscles.
That said, I still recommend doing heavy compound lifts like squats and deadlifts first so you don’t affect the core’s ability to keep your body stable under heavy loads.
6. Strengthen Your Other Muscle Groups
Strengthening the glutes, shoulders, legs, and upper back muscles will also help you get better at planks. All of these muscles work together to hold and stabilize your body in place. If one or several of them are weak, they won’t be able to do their job effectively.
If you suspect that a muscle group other than your core is holding you back from being good at planks, focus more of your training on bringing it up.
Let’s say your upper back is weak. Doing more exercises like barbell rows, pull-ups, and lat pull-downs can strengthen the upper back muscles and enable them to do their job more effectively when you do planks.
If you’re unsure how to get started with strength training exercises, check out the Fitbod app. It can create a program for you that’s suitable for your current fitness level. As you get stronger overall, you can customize your routine based on specific muscle groups you want to prioritize at any given time.
7. Keep Yourself Distracted
Even if you have the physical strength necessary to do a plank, you may lack the mental toughness needed to hold one for several minutes. Finding ways to distract yourself can help the time go by faster and increase the amount of time you can stay in the plank position.
You can sing the chorus of a song to yourself, count really slowly, or try to sing the alphabet backward in your head. Mind tricks like these will distract you from the clock and keep you focused on something else other than how hard you’re working.
7 Plank Mistakes to Avoid
In addition to following the tips above, understanding some of the most common plank mistakes and learning how to avoid them can help make the exercise easier to execute.
1. Letting Your Hips Rise or Fall Too Much
Hips shooting up or sagging toward the floor is one of the most common mistakes in planks. It usually happens when the core muscles are fatigued or aren’t strong enough to keep your body in a straight line.
Doing this, however, takes the emphasis off the targeted muscles and makes the exercise ineffective. Letting your hips sink, in particular, places more stress on your lower back, which could lead to backaches.
To avoid this, focus on squeezing the glutes, which will help you keep your hips aligned. You can also take your feet out wider to give you a more stable base and help you balance better.
2. Bending Your Knees
Bending the knees often goes hand in hand with letting the hips sag. But just like dropping your hips, bending your knees makes planks ineffective since you lose all tension in your core and upper body.
Keeping your glutes engaged throughout the duration of your plank will remove any temptation to drop your knees to the floor.
3. Placing Your Arms Too Far Forward or Backward
Another common mistake when doing planks is to put your arms too far forward or too far back. If your arms are too far out in front of you, you activate more of your lats. If they are too far back, you put too much strain on your shoulders.
To avoid these issues, keep your elbows (or hands, if you’re doing straight-arm planks) directly underneath your shoulders. This will ensure the core muscles do most of the work instead of the upper back muscles and prevent you from developing shoulder issues.
4. Shrugging Your Shoulders
It’s also common to want to shrug your shoulders up to your ears when holding a plank position. This takes the focus off the core muscles and forces your arms to work even harder to stabilize you.
Keeping your palms flat on the floor and spreading your fingers wide instead of putting your hands in fists can help with this. It will keep your upper back muscles engaged so you can resist the urge to raise your shoulders.
5. Dropping Your Shoulders Toward the Floor
On the opposite end of shrugging the shoulders is letting them round forward toward the floor. In turn, this causes your shoulder blades to lift toward the ceiling.
This is called “winging.” It puts a lot of stress on the shoulders and reduces the amount of work your core has to do to keep you stable.
You can prevent winging by focusing on driving your forearms into the floor. This will help keep your upper back muscles and shoulder blades engaged without putting them in a sub-optimal position.
6. Not Breathing
Not breathing when holding a plank is a common mistake, especially amongst new gym-goers. You may focus so much on ensuring your form is correct or get so caught up trying not to look at the clock that you forget to breathe.
Holding your breath is detrimental because you’ll fatigue sooner and won’t be able to hold a plank for as long as you want. It can also cause you to hold too much tension in your neck and upper body, which can cause soreness and discomfort in those areas.
Make sure to take deep breaths every couple of seconds so you don’t get too tired too quickly.
7. Raising or Lowering Your Head Too Much
Looking straight ahead or tucking your chin too much puts your body out of alignment and can also cause discomfort in your neck and upper body. It also makes planks less effective because your upper body is no longer in an optimal position to stabilize the rest of your body.
You should instead focus on keeping your neck neutral so everything from your head to your heels forms a straight line. This will ensure you can keep all of the muscles in your body engaged instead of forcing one part of the body to do more work.
Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try 3 free workouts on Fitbod.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do I Get Better At Holding a Plank?
You can get better at holding a plank by doing planks more often, gradually adding a few seconds to your plank time every week, and incorporating other plank variations and core exercises to strengthen your core overall.
You can also strengthen your glutes, legs, upper back, and shoulders, which all play a role in keeping your body stable and in the proper position during planks.
How Long Should An Average Person Be Able to Plank?
An average person who works out consistently (at least 3-4 days per week) should be able to hold a plank for 2-3 minutes. However, this can vary based on experience level. Beginners may only be able to hold a plank for 10 seconds, while advanced exercisers can hold a plank for more than 4 minutes.
About The Author
Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.