The Anatomy of a Perfect Plank

Did you know that holding your body in a prone position just a few inches off the floor is both challenging and great for your physique? That’s right, planks are all the rage, replacing crunches as the go-to core exercise. Everyone’s planking these days—elite athletes, my mom and dad, and even 71-year-olds breaking world records. We can thank our yoga and Pilates instructors for this one!

This seemingly simple exercise primarily works the abdominals and lower back, with shoulders, chest, quads, traps, and glutes acting as stabilizers throughout the movement.

Perfect your plank

If you’ve never done a plank, or if you’re just wondering if your form is up to snuff, check out the elements of a perfect plank below.

  1. Align your body in a straight line from ankles to head. It’s just like push-up position, but instead of resting on your hands, drop down to your forearms with your elbows directly below your shoulders. Have someone place a straight bar or stick on your back to ensure proper alignment. Your head, upper back, and glutes should all touch the stick.
  2. SQUEEZE! Squeeze your glutes, pull your abs into your spine, and push your elbows into the floor. Relax your hands and place them on the floor while keeping your body in a straight line.
  3. Keep your eyes focused right in front of your hands.
  4. Hold this position for 30 seconds, or for as long as you can with proper form, and continue to breathe deeply throughout the exercise.

What can go wrong?

Planks look easy, but there are several common mistakes that throw you body out of alignment.

  • Back arched
  • Neck bent
  • Glutes up too high

Advanced techniques

As Emeril Lagasse would say, if you want to kick it up a notch try these planking variations.

  1. Raise one arm in front of you while holding your position.
  2. Raise one leg behind you while holding your position.
  3. Raise one arm and the opposite leg at the same time while holding your position.

How long can you hold your plank?

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Brian Zehetner, MS,RD,CSSD,CSCS is a registered dietitian, certified strength and conditioning specialist, and board certified sports dietitian with over 15 years of experience in the nutrition and fitness industries.

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