Planking is one of the best ways to improve your core strength and balance but on top of that it’s also very good for improving the strength in your back and shoulders and as such has become very popular amongst gym goers the world over. In 2013 it found its way into the Guinness World Records when American George Hood set the record after planking for over 3 hours.
How do I do a plank?
There are different variations on the plank but they’re all based on the standard, or forearm plank. The most important thing about planking, like all exercises is – remember to keep breathing! To perform a standard plank:
Kneel on the ground with your elbows, a shoulders width part, on the floor in front of you and your forearms straight.
Lift your knees off ground and start to push your feet back, while at the same time, extend your body.
Make sure your neck, back and feet are in a line and hold it for at least 30 seconds before returning to the start.
What is planking good for?
As we touched on before, planking is one of the best exercises for improving your code you can do. On top of that though planks have a multitude of other benefits such as:
Tone muscle – When you plank you’re using your abdominal muscles to help maintain your position, this will help to tone and strengthen those muscles.
Reduce back pain – Unlike other core exercises such as burpees and crunches, planks will actually help to reduce any back pain you may have. This is because you move very little when planking while at the same time engaging all of your abdominal muscles, this will in turn strengthen your back muscles which will help to reduce pain as well as the future risk of pain.
Improved balance and posture – Planking, especially side or extended planks, require you to use your abdominal muscles to hold your position and stay upright. This will aid your balance while the straight positions you hold will benefit your posture.
Make you feel good – Like all exercises planking can help to improve your mood while the ‘stretch and relax’ nature of planking will improve it even further. This is because it helps to relieve tension from tight muscles, making them more supple and ultimately improving your mood as you no longer feel tense.
Increased flexibility – We’re spending more and more time sat at computers and moving very little. This is bad for us in so many ways, not least because our bodies will start to tense up, but the stretch and relax movements of planking will help to keep your flexibility.
There are a number of different entries in the Guinness World Records for planking but the first world record was set in 2013 when George Hood, a former US marine, held an abdominal plank for 3 hours, 7 minutes and 15 seconds. The current record for a continuous plank was set in 2016 when Mao Weidong, a Chinese policeman, set the record after planking for 8 hours, 1 minute and 1 second!
Other records include:
Maria Kalimera who, after a 3 hour and 31 minute plank, set the record in 2015 for the longest abdominal plank by a female.
In 2016 PUMA Sports India helped to set the world record as part of their #DoYou campaign, with the most number of woman planking for at least 60 seconds. The previous record was 1,323 and they beat that by 400 when they managed 1,623!
In 2018 Frenchman, Silehm Boussehaba, set a record after planking for 4 minutes and two seconds while wearing a 200lb pack.
The longest single arm plank with a medicine (Swiss) ball record was set in October 2018 by American Ninja Warrior finalist, Travis Brewer after he managed 1 minute 6 seconds.
Variations on the standard plank
As with a lot of exercises there’s a range of different plank versions, all of which are based on the standard though. As long as you follow the same basic principle of a plank, i.e. forming a ‘plank’ with your body, you can even make up your own version. Some of the most popular alternatives though are:
High plank – This can be done either on its now or with a Swiss ball. It’s pretty similar to the standard plank but instead of resting your forearms on the floor you extend them fully and place your hands where your elbows would have been if you were doing a standard plank. If you’re using a Swiss ball then place your hands on that instead of the floor. Using a Swiss ball will give your balance an extra tough workout as it’s not as stable as the floor.
Knee Plank – Perfect for beginners, the knee plank is by far the easiest plank to perform. Instead of lifting your knees off of the ground as you would in a standard plank leave them on the floor. This will put less stress on your lower back and ideal to start with before working up to other versions.
Plank Tuck – Rest your feet on a block approximately 2 feet off of the ground and extend your arms as if you were doing a high plank. Next bring your right knee up to your chest, return it to the block then bring the other knee up to your chest.
Single-Leg Plank – Starting out as a standard forearm plank you then need to raise one leg as much as possible while keeping it straight and making sure your back is still level. This is especially good because as you’re trying to keep your balance it’s working your core much more than a standard plank.
Side Plank – As well as working your core a side plank will also help to develop your obliques. To perform a side plank lie on either side with your legs stacked on top of each other. Next raise your opposite arm towards the ceiling. If you want to make it even more difficult can lift your leg at the same time.
Side Slimmer – A twist on the side plank, this really needs a lot of balance to do. Once your arm is stretched to the ceiling bend it at the elbow to create a 90 degree angle then bring it towards your knee and you’re bringing that up too. This will also work your shoulders, thighs and obliques.
Whittling Walk – Start out with a standard forearm plank then, while keeping your forearms on the floor, bring your left hand to your your right elbow and likewise with your right hand. Next move one forearm over the other and take a step forward whilst still on your toes, repeat with the other arm before doing it again in reverse. You can also do this from a high plank but instead of crossing your arms over just ‘walk’ them forward, this is known as the walking plank.
Side Walking Plank – This is very similar to the whittling walk or walking plank but rather than ‘walking’ forward you walk sideways. You don’t have to use an agility ladder to do this, but if you do have one it will help you to keep a uniform distance every time. It will also give you a set distance to walk for before returning.
Pumped-Up Plank – This is similar to the high plank but rather than keeping your feet on the floor place them against the wall so that your body is completely horizontal. This will help to improve not only your balance but your core too as you will need to use that to keep your body straight and your legs off of the floor.
Rainbow Side Plank – Another variation of the side plank, this time instead of stretching your arm straight upwards bring it over your head and arched towards the ground. At the same time as doing this also raise your hips to create a ‘rainbow’ arch.
Tips to getting it right every time
If you follow our simple tips you’ll have no trouble performing every single plank perfectly every time.
Keep your back straight – Unless you’re doing a rainbow side plank you need to keep your back straight. It’s easy to let you back sag but if you tighten your abdominal muscles to bring your stomach towards your spine this will help to avoid this. If it helps plank in front of a mirror to help make sure your back is straight.
Don’t let you head drop – The temptation to let your head drop can be pretty strong, after all ‘what harm will it do to put your head down for a minute’? Thinking like this isn’t going to help you at all, don’t forget that your head albeit via your neck is actually an extension of your back and spine so if you let your head drop you’re not going to get the full benefit of planking. A good tip is to look at the area around a foot in front of your hands, looking this far ahead will help you to keep you head at the right position.
Keep breathing – As with pretty much any strenuous exercise it’s extremely common to hold your breath, even for just a few seconds because you’re concentrating on what you’re doing rather than thinking about breathing. A tip that I find very useful and actually do it every time is take a few deep breaths before hand, this will help you to focus on your breathing then as you start a plank you’ll find you’re breathing normally without even needing to think about it.
Don’t hold your hands together – You might feel like this doesn’t matter but it’s actually a lot more important than you might think. If you hold your hands together then your abdominal muscles aren’t doing the work they should be and thus your plank isn’t as effective. Luckily this is pretty easy to avoid, just make sure your forearms out in a straight line in front of you. This will make it impossible for you to hold your hand together, unless of course you’re Stretch Armstrong.
As you can see planks are an exceptionally good core exercise that unlike others can actually help to reduce back pain. They’re perfect for toning muscle and increasing your balance and core strength. If you found this article helpful and want to learn more about other exercises and workout plans check out the other articles in our how to do series.