The moment your muscles engage and you lift up into a plank, that’s when your brain will start inundating you with questions like, “How long should I hold this plank?” or “Is it almost over?” — and rightfully so.
A plank is a tough isometric bodyweight exercise that requires you to hold yourself in a position similar to a pushup, says Ashley Iwanicki, a fitness instructor and founder of The Collective Studios. “A plank exercise primarily targets your core muscles, but recruits your shoulders, back, glutes, and leg muscles for support,” she tells Bustle. It also calls on your smaller stabilizer muscles, she says, which all work together to keep you steady.
As with any exercise, maintaining good form is always going to be way more important than how many reps you can do — or, in this case, how long you can hold the pose. Good form is what helps you get the most benefit from an exercise, Iwanicki says, so always make sure to take a break if need be.
As fitness instructor Kim D’Agnese previously told Bustle, you can pull off a perfect plank by planting your palms underneath your shoulders, keeping your glutes and abs engaged, and making sure your hips remain in line with your shoulders as you lift up. With form in mind, read on below for how long to hold a plank and how to increase your time, if that’s a goal.
How Long To Hold A Plank
To figure out how long to hold a plank, Iwanicki says the ideal length of time will depend on your current strength level as well as your fitness goals. “If you are new to planking, I recommend starting with a series of three 10-second holds with five- to 10-second rests in between,” she says. “Practice multiple short holds like this until you feel confident enough to extend the duration of time and eventually work your way up to 30-second holds or longer.”
If you’re at a more intermediate or advanced fitness level, aim to hold your plank for 60 seconds to maximize your time under tension, which Iwanicki says will optimize your muscle strength, endurance, and growth. “If that doesn’t feel challenging enough, try out more advanced plank variations for your one-minute hold,” she adds.
How To Get Better At Planks
It’s totally OK if you can only hold a plank for a second or two to start. It takes time to build your way up to a longer hold, which is why Iwanicki says you may want to start in a more supportive variation like the forearm plank, where you balance on your forearms instead of your palms. You can also try planting your palms and setting your knees down to take some pressure off your abs.
Once you land on the comfiest variation, aim to hold it for a few seconds. “Continue to practice a plank from your knees or forearms until you can confidently hold that variation for 30 seconds,” Iwanicki says. “From there, advance your plank by holding just 10 seconds at a time from your toes.”
Once the 10-second plank on your toes feels easy, that’s when you might try to hold it for an additional 10 to 20 seconds from your knees before slowly building up to a standard plank. “As with anything, consistent practice and training will help you improve your skills,” she says.
How Often To Practice
Frequency and consistency are the most important factors when it comes to building strength. You can throw a plank in at the end of a workout as a bonus core exercise, or you can make it a point to practice them on a regular basis so you get stronger faster.
“To see results, I recommend incorporating a plank into your routine three to four times a week at a duration that feels challenging to you,” she says. “While the length of time it will take to build strength and hold a plank for longer will vary by each person based on their prior exercise experience and abilities, most people should see an improvement within a few weeks if planks are practiced consistently.”
Plank Tips And Tricks
To make your planking experience just a little bit easier, Iwanicki says you should focus on squeezing more than just your abs to stay up. “Most people only focus on engaging their core, as this is the primary muscle group being worked,” she says. “However, consciously activating secondary muscles, such as your shoulders, back, glutes, and leg muscles can be extremely helpful.”
The goal is to engage all your plank muscles so you feel solid and stable. “Focus on pressing the ground away beneath your forearms or palms so that you create a slight lift in the space between your shoulders,” she adds. “This action should feel like you are lifting your body weight away from the ground to oppose gravity.”
As you hold the plank, continue to squeeze your glutes and quads together to support the rest of your body. “Find a neutral alignment through your spine, dropping your hips in line with your shoulders,” Iwanicki says. “Stacking your joints — shoulders over your elbows or wrists — will also make a plank feel easier as this alignment will optimize how your bones are able to support the weight of your body.”
Keep these planking tips and tricks in mind, and before long you’ll be holding planks like a pro.
Byrne, JM. (2014). Effect of using a suspension training system on muscle activation during the performance of a front plank exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000510.
Park, DJ. (2019). Which trunk exercise most effectively activates abdominal muscles? A comparative study of plank and isometric bilateral leg raise exercises. Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation. doi: 10.3233/BMR-181122.
Kim D’Agnese, fitness trainer