How to Master the Plank Exercise

The plank exercise is one of the most simple core exercises to perform. Regardless if you’re a beginner or advanced, there will always be a variation of the plank that will be challenging for you.

During the plank the abdominal muscles, external obliques and spine stabilizers are targeted.

What does this mean for you?

Both superficial and functional benefits are coming your way! But… only if you’re performing the exercise correctly and progressing over time. The plank exercise will also transfer well to other movements requiring glute, core and spinal strength.

This post will outline several progressions of the plank, including ways to increase difficulty and how to avoid common mistakes.


Plank Exercise Variations

Don’t be surprised if you become proficient at planks in a very short time – this is common.

The brutal truth is: if you’re not progressively overloading and challenging your body, you will not get stronger.

A good rule of thumb is as follows:

If you’re able to do your plank variation for more than 45-60 seconds, it’s too easy.

To get stronger and improve at all variations and progressions, remember the following cues:

  • Squeeze your glutes
  • Keep your abs tight
  • Keep your back straight

And lastly, to make the most progress we suggest the following plank training frequency:

  • Three times per week
  • 3-4 sets
  • 15-30 second holds

1) Feet Shoulder Width Apart (Easier)

This is a regular plank, with your feet positioned shoulder width apart.

feet position plank exercise

2) Feet together (Harder)

Instead of having your feet at shoulder width apart, bring them together. This will increase the difficulty of the plank, relying on your ability to adhere to the cues listed above.

feet together plank exercise

How to Make it More Challenging

If you’re able to hold the above variations for 30-45 seconds comfortably, then it’s time to make the plank exercise more challenging.

Here’s how:

1) Lengthen lever arm – position your elbows further in front of you

Shift your elbows forward as per the image below. Elbows should be shoulder width apart. This change increases demand on your anterior core muscles, making the exercise more challenging.

elbows plank exercise

2) Bring elbows in closer together

Bring your elbows together as per the image below. This will decrease your base of support, making the exercise more unstable and challenging.

elbowscloser plank exercise

Common Mistakes

These are the most common mistakes we’ve seen from people performing the plank exercise.

1) Allowing your shoulders to come forward

By allowing your shoulders to come forward, you’re decreasing the demands on your abs. This means you may unintentionally “rest” on your elbows due to your center of gravity shifting into a more favorable/less stressful position.

plank exercise shoulders

2) Not maintaining a straight alignment

Not maintaining a straight alignment will decrease demands on your abs.  Do not allow your hips to sag or raise excessively. If you’re unsure, we encourage you to film your sets and make the necessary adjustments based on what you see.

Here’s an example where the hips are too high:

hips plank exercise

Here’s an example where the hips are too low: 

sagging hips plank exercise

You’ll be able to spot these mistakes immediately if you film your sets. Again, we highly encourage you to do it while learning how to perform the plank correctly.

3) Losing tightness through your glutes

Also known as losing posterior pelvic tilt, it’s important to keep everything “tight and engaged” in order to remain stable.

pelvic tilt plank exercise

As an aside, if you feel you’re plateauing with your plank or your training in general, we recommend you look into cluster sets.

Let us know in the comments if you’ve been able to make good progress with your plank, and whether you have any questions. For a full explanation of these plank variations, refer to the original video posted on YouTube in June 2016.